I've seen a lot of terrible, juvenile movies this year-- a lot, trust me-- and yet none of them really earned the description "horrifying" the way Old Dogs does. It's not just that it stars Robin Williams and John Travolta, two actors who we know are capable of better, or that it relies on people getting hit in the crotch or pulling ridiculous faces for about 90% of its humor. There's something in the way that Old Dogs is brazenly, proudly lazy that makes it truly reprehensible, and given the way my screening audience hooted with laughter through the whole thing, we American people are just as guilty as director Walt Becker for helping it exist.
There's not a plot to this movie so much as a series of gags. Robin Williams gets trapped in a spray tan booth and comes out bright orange. Rita Wilson, a hand model, gets her hands slammed in a car trunk and can no longer babysit for Kelly Preston, meaning she's forced to track down old fling Williams to care for their twins, one of them played by a real child actor, the other by Travolta's daughter Ella Bleu. Then Williams and Travolta, who are temporarily roomies, get their medications mixed up and spend a golf trip either grinning like the Joker (Travolta) or hitting other people in the crotch (Williams). Then Matt Dillon and Justin Long show up to shout at them at a kind of wilderness camp. Then Bernie Mac, in a humiliating posthumous appearance, shows up to control Robin Williams via remote control. Then Seth Green gets molested by a gorilla. It keeps going like that, literally ad nauseam.
That list of actors not too ashamed to cash a paycheck doesn't even include Amy Sedaris, who gets about four lines, or Ann-Margret, who gets five, or even Dax Shepard and Luis Guzman, who have starred in their share of stinkers but nothing as bad at this. The inexplicable amount of talent in the movie has an inverse relationship to the quality of David Diamond and David Weissman's script. The film is ostensibly about Robin Williams and his need to bond with his children, but the kids are left out of the action for long stretches of time in order for Williams and Travolta to get caught up in some new wild stunt. For a time it appears that the movie might be about their relationship, two business partners discovering they are much more late in life. That movie would have been bizarre, sure, but no weirder than watching John Travolta wrestle with Ann-Margret over a pie.
In one brief, shining moment, you get the feeling that Williams at least had something else in mind. Having taken an assortment of his own pills and Travolta's (what kind of idiot doesn't know what his own pills look like?), he's lost all depth perception and use of his tongue, resulting in hitting a lot of people with golf clubs (lame) but also serious mushmouth, an opportunity for subtle comedy that Williams uses to great affect. Of course, the moment Williams gets a laugh with a small tongue loll, Becker cuts to an exasperated character about to get hit, again, in the crotch. Becker seems convinced that the audience will only respond to the broadest, most overt sense of humor, and he'll be damned if you go for anything else.
Everyone responsible for making this movie should be ashamed of themselves, of course, no matter how nice a house Williams and Travolta got to build as a result. But Becker's last film Wild Hogs, which was reportedly just as horrendous as this one, made $168 million and gave him carte blanche to foist Old Dogs upon us. Anyone with half a brain will suffer mightily through Old Dogs, but it's worth remembering that we, the American moviegoing public, brought this upon ourselves. God help us all.