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Chew on this: Even with Williams and Travolta, ‘Old Dogs’ isn’t funny

Published: Wed, November 25, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Roger Moore

Trashing “Old Dogs” is a bit like kicking a puppy. But here goes.

The new comedy from some of the folks who brought us “Wild Hogs” is badly written and broadly acted, shamelessly manipulative and not above stopping by the toilet for a laugh or two.

It’s almost certain to be a big hit. Well, the least one can do is put on bunny slippers before the puppy-kicking.

John Travolta and Robin Williams are professionally engaged in their roles — as lifelong friends and longtime high-rolling sports marketing business partners. They’re just not believable as friends or as the “types” they play.

Travolta is Charlie — the womanizing, back-slapping, tell-the-client-a-funny-story half of the team. Most of the funny stories (which are not funny, BTW) are about Dan, played by Williams at his most downbeat.

Sad Dan may be able to close the deal, but he’s a lonely soul, divorced, pining over a one-night stand (Kelly Preston) from seven years before.

The guys are on the verge of their biggest deal ever when “South Beach Vicki” (Preston) comes back into Dan’s life. She’s going to jail (environmental protest) and oh, by the way, Dan’s the father of 7-year-old twins. Would he mind watching them for a few weeks?

Surprisingly, few of the jokes have to do with the guys interacting with kids, which is what you promise when you label Dan “allergic to anything under four feet tall.”

Repeated “Look at the cute grandparents” gags (Dan and Charlie are plainly 50somethings) and “We’re a couple/they’re our kids” gay jokes pepper the script. It’s mainly a movie about two men coping with faux fatherhood and pretending they’re not old at the same time. The funniest bits come from a mix-up in their daily pill regimen.

The kids (Travolta’s lovely daughter, Ella Bleu, plays Emily, Conner Rayburn is Zach) are props — seldom-used props.

Director Walt Becker has no time to film father-child bonding since he was squeezing in cameos by Ann-Margret, Matt Dillon, Justin Long, Rita Wilson and, in his final role, Bernie Mac as a puppet entertainer who straps Dan into a motion-control suit, maybe the unfunniest scene Mac or Williams has ever performed.

We get the squish-faced Robin Williams here, one of those films where his face and body give away how deflated this material makes him feel.

There’s nothing offensive here, even the trips to the toilet. But when the best thing you can say about a comedy is that it’s harmless, you know these Old Dogs have lost their bite. Utterly.

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