Longer version of a review in today's Oregonian...
"Old Dogs" doesn't deserve a bad review so much as it deserves to be sent back in time for a good Puritan shunning.
This "comedy" concerns two best friends (Robin Williams, John Travolta) who run a New York sports-marketing firm. Williams finds out he fathered fraternal twins during a drunken one-night marriage in Florida seven years ago. The mom (Kelly Preston) is heading to jail for two weeks. Can Williams babysit these kids he's never met (with Travolta's reluctant help) and learn about the importance of family -- while trying to close the biggest deal of his career?
What ensues is an absolutely punishing viewing experience, the worst kind of cynical Hollywood junk. It's filled with movie stars cashing Disney-sized paychecks in a stupid, flatulence-filled story that supposedly affirms the importance of family over work. Really, what it affirms is that studio executives are already making movies for the future-audience from "Idiocracy."
How else to explain offensive "jokes" like Williams getting too much spray-on tan and people then assuming he's a member of various ethnic groups -- with the punchline being that some kid thinks he's an Oompa-Loompa? How else to explain all the gags about urinating dogs and hits to the groin? How else to explain a moment in which Williams tries to explain the birds and the bees to a 7-year-old while the kid is noisily going number two in a public restroom -- and Williams is standing above him inside the stall? How else to explain the sudden illogical tonal lurches from frenetic crassness to teary-eye, swelling-music mawkishness?
I could go on and on, but Drew McWeeny has already written the definitive thermonuclear slam of "Old Dogs," and I encourage you to read every word. It begins with the sentence "If 'Old Dogs' were a person, I would stab it in the face," goes on to list its myriad stupidities and storytelling sins, and makes this astute observation:
If it sounds like I'm going overboard on a harmless family comedy, that's precisely the problem. I don't think this kind of garbage is harmless. I am frequently horrified by the message of these "family comedies," and I think Hollywood really does give its most vocal critics fuel for when they claim that this town has no idea what basic human values are. I hate the sub-genre about the workaholic dad who just has to learn the important life lesson that his job doesn't matter and everything will magically work out if he just spends every waking hour serving each and every whim of his children.
I've always (jokingly) argued that movies containing this "important life lesson" basically represent Hollywood pulling up the ladder behind itself -- workaholic producers thinning out the competition by telling the rest of America that ambition is a sin. It's probably closer to the truth that producers make movies like "Old Dogs" because they think you're an idiot. Don't reward them for it.
(88 min., rated PG for some mild rude humor) Grade: F-minus
'Old Dogs' (The Oregonian, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009)