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'Old Dogs' need to learn better tricks

Article Published: Dec. 3, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Old Dogs' need to learn better tricks

"You'll have to excuse Robin -- he's been watching 'Mork and Mindy' on Hulu." John Travolta and Robin Williams star in 'Old Dogs.'

You ever go out and watch a good friend make a complete and utter fool of him or her self? Did you watch in agony as they, thinking whatever they were doing was a good idea, just plunged head-first into an embarrassing or degrading situation? I have, and it's never fun (and it's even less fun to be that guy).

Watching Old Dogs is similar to that experience, as you get the "pleasure" of watching several talented people give a sincere effort to wring some comedy out of a premise that's been done better and a script by David Weissman and David Diamond (the writing duo behind the very funny Evolution) that I assume was as unfunny as Old Dogs.

This movie is painfully unfunny. The story and plot set-ups are as generic as possible, and so are the "jokes" that they create. It's primarily disappointing because I've come to expect more from Robin Williams and John Travolta over the last several years, as they've taken some risky roles and proved they're very good actors - watch Williams in One Hour Photo or Travolta in Primary Colors. Old Dogs also co-stars Seth Green, Dax Shepard and Bernie Mac - all funny people - and gets nothing funny out of them.

Old Dogs tells the story of two life-long friends, Charlie (Travolta) and Dan (Williams). They run their own sports marketing company and are on the verge of sealing a $47 million deal with a Japanese company. Charlie tells the story of a wild weekend seven years back after Dan's divorce and, what would you know, Dan's beach fling, Vicki (Kelly Preston, Travolta's real-life wife) shows up with a pair of seven-year-old surprises (one played by Travolta's daughter).

Apparently, Vicki has to go to jail for two weeks and needs someone to watch the kids. Dan agrees, but hopes they won't get in the way of his important business meetings. How will he manage?

Unfortunately, there's no reason to care. All the characters are very thin, caricatures of better characters from better movies. Instead of creating any moments where the characters show real emotion or care for each other, director Walt Becker (Wild Hogs) just plays popular music in the hopes it will tell the viewer how they should be feeling.

It doesn't help that there's too much going on, being both a buddy film and a film about the sudden onset of parenthood. The buddy film material doesn't work because it's not funny, but the parenthood part doesn't work because we never get to know the kids - they're just kind of there.

Compared to the normal kids I know, theses kids are very well behaved - a quality that doesn't usually lead to funny jokes in a comedy. Funny films know that wild and crazy mischief - like that created by Julian "Frankenstein" McGrath in Big Daddy - lead to funny jokes.

But the hardest part of Old Dogs to stomach is the simple fact that this is the very last film featuring the late, great Bernie Mac, who got his first acting gig at the age of 35 before his death in 2008 at the age of 50. But in those 15 years - Wow! Bernie Mac made me laugh so hard in so many films, whether playing outrageous characters in Mr. 3000 and Head of State or playing the humor subtly in Bad Santa. His stand-up was natural and his comic timing was impeccable, and he stole the show in The Original Kings of Comedy. The Bernie Mac Show, which ran for six years and 104 episodes, earned him two Emmy nominations for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series.

My best advice: skip Old Dogs and catch some Bernie Mac Show reruns. You'll laugh because the show's hilarious, and you won't be saddened that the final work of a great comedian is a giant pile of garbage.

Old Dogs is rated PG for some mild rude humor. It is playing at the Parkway Theater in West Jefferson and the Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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