Making a movie aimed at kids gives filmmakers license for a lot of things: butt jokes and poop jokes, of course—you can’t have one without the other—but also reaction shots of cute animals and montage sequence after montage sequence. But it’s one thing to make a movie with simpler tastes in mind, and another to make one insulting even to half-formed little brains. Old Dogs, the latest from the director of Wild Hogs, casts Robin Williams and John Travolta as longtime business partners—the former divorced, the latter a lifelong bachelor—who have to team up to care for a pair of fraternal twins Williams sired during a brief fling. Only it isn’t really about that. Instead, it’s about discovering how little connective tissue something needs in order for it to still be a film.
Largely forgetting the kids as it subjects its stars to one humiliation after another, Old Dogs doesn’t even have the courage to commit to its familiar but serviceable premise. Two And A Half Men has gotten seven seasons and counting out of the same basic setup and character types, but here, director Walt Becker flits restlessly from one contrived scenario to the next, sticking around only long enough to reach outcomes even the slowest children will see coming. In the space between the moment where Matt Dillon’s macho troop leader gets teary-eyed over an ancestor’s statue and the moment where said statue gets destroyed, a generation can learn the meaning of the word “hackneyed.”
Perhaps sensing that they haven’t landed in the contemporary descendent of The Red Balloon, or even Three Men And A Baby, Williams, Travolta, and a supporting cast that includes Seth Green and the late Bernie Mac mug as if they’re getting to try on facial expressions like “shock” and “mortification” for the last time, and they want to get the most out of the moment. They’re shameless performances in a movie not above resorting to siccing penguins on Travolta’s crotch for laughs, or staging a dog’s funeral for pathos. Adults should steer clear. Kids should be sent to it only if they’ve been extraordinarily naughty.