“Old Dogs,” the new comedy starring John Travolta and Robin Willliams as two middle aged men who discover the importance of family, clearly knows what its demographic is. With a boomer soundtrack heavy on hits from the 60s and 70s and a gaggle of incontinence jokes and prostate jokes it’s aimed directly at the crowd who can remember what they were doing when Kennedy was shot.
Williams and Travolta play Dan and Charlie, lifelong friends and business partners on the verge of their biggest deal ever. Dan is a business minded divorcee, who is “allergic to anything under four feet.” In other words no kids—doesn’t have them, doesn’t want them. Just as well, he doesn’t really need children when Charlie is around. He’s still a big kid with an ultramodern apartment full of toys and a habit of flirting with every woman he meets. Their carefully manicured lives are turned upside down when Vicki (Kelly Preston) re-enters Dan’s life. With her are her two kids, the result of a one night stand Dan had with Vicki in Miami seven years before. When Daddy Dan and Uncle Charlie take the kids for two weeks while Vicki serves a jail sentence for environmental activism (how au currant!) they learn that business doesn’t always come first.
“Old Dogs” is the broadest played comedy since “The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze.” It’s filled-to-bursting with funny faces, slapstick humor and not one, but two crotch shots. It’s mostly by-the-numbers—except for a strange “body puppet” sequence featuring the late Bernie Mac—that relies on Williams and Travolta to bring a little something extra to a script that may have been a laugh-free-zone in lesser hands. Williams wrings whatever laughs there are to be found in a spray tan catastrophe scene and Travolta finds the funny as an over medicated man at a bereavement pot luck. Also packing a few laughs are Luis Guzmán as the hungry childproofing expert and Matt Dillon as the hard line camp leader.
“Old Dogs” works best when it is going for laughs, unfortunately the slapstick is interspersed with mushy moments that seem to come out of nowhere. One moment Dan has lost all depth perception and is playing the wildest game of golf since Adam Sandler and Bob Barker threw it down on the links in “Happy Gilmour,” the next Williams is using his earnest “Patch Adams” eyes, staring at the camera, fretting that he’s not cutting it as a dad. The sudden shifts are a bit jarring, but for every sentimental scene there are four sciatica jokes, or a grand-pa gag.
“Old Dogs” is a sequel in spirit to Travolta’s “Wild Hogs.” Call it boomer porn if you like—it showcases older successful men, their beautiful younger wives and interesting lives—but at its heart it’s just an old fashioned family comedy.