If “Old Dogs” were a person, I would stab it in the face.
Millions of years from now, after Western Civilization has fallen and the Earth has ruptured and cooled and been reborn and a new life form has taken over the planet, if any of them happen to stumble upon a working DVD player and a copy of “Old Dogs,” they will sum up the passing of our culture with two simple words: “Good riddance.”
It is rare that I hate a film with the feverish intensity that I feel towards this one, but it hit pretty much every single button for me, and by halfway through, I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin. What I thought was going to be a mediocre family-themed comedy instead struck me as one of the most singularly vile experiences I’ve had in a theater all year. To give you an idea how wretched the film is, if you take the worst Robin Williams film, multiply it by the worst John Travolta film, and then multiply that by “Wild Hogs,” the last film from director Walt Becker, you would still end up with something better than this.
“Old Dogs” is the story of two ostensible adult human beings who, confronted with spending 14 days in the presence of twin seven-year-olds, promptly go insane and begin acting in a manner which would land any person in the real world in jail or the morgue. Deservedly. Nothing in this film resembles any recognizable behavior of any actual person ever. At one point, Bernie Mac shows up as a puppeteer who literally wires Robin Williams up with a magical bio-rig that transforms him into… and I quote… a “human puppet” who is controlled via remote by John Travolta so that Williams can have a tea party with his daughter. And although I was sliding in and out of consciousness by this point, numb from the horror, I’m almost positive a Motown song plays over the resulting montage.
And that is not the worst scene in the film.
Ball shots, drug jokes, and a prolonged sequence where John Travolta is transformed into The Joker are just some of the nightmares that await audiences this weekend. And 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 also hate the sub-genre of movies in which rational adults who run their own companies and who are otherwise completely capable are reduced to simpering morons simply by having to care for a child. “Three Men And A Baby” is a good example of what I mean. Seriously? Three adults can’t figure out how to diaper a baby? Really? That’s comedy? It would be pathetic if it happened in the real world, and yet we’re all supposed to smile and nod and just accept it as “funny.” For me, great humor comes out of recognizing something true in the comedy, something that I can relate to, and when I’m watching performers suddenly turn sub-moronic in the name of laughter, I find myself totally unmoved. I don’t think the truly stupid are funny in real life when I have to deal with them, so why would I think it’s hilarious to watch talented actors play such useless sacks of skin?
There are some very funny people trapped in this one, like Luis Guzman and Justin Long, but they’re given absolutely nothing to do. Matt Dillon shows up in a pointless sequence involving a camping trip, and even the way scenes are edited in this film confounds me. There’s no beginning or ending to anything. It’s like scenes just start and stop at random, like Walt Becker’s so bored by what’s happening that he just decides to cut to something else rather than find an organic way to wrap something up or instead of trying to build to any sort of punchline. I can’t really blame any of the actors (except for saying yes), because there’s nothing here for them to do. There’s no way to redeem a script this creatively bankrupt. There was never any hope this would be anything but rancid.
If you truly hate your family and you’re all trapped together this weekend, and you reeeeeally want to punish them and show them just how little you value their joy, then by all means, pile into the car and rush out to find a theater playing “Old Dogs.” But if you have any self-respect at all, and if your time and your brain cells mean anything to you, then skip it. It’s not ironically awful. It’s not so bad it’s great. It is a soul-crushing experience, depressing and sad, bad enough to make me retroactively wish away the careers of all involved.
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