November 26, 2009

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Old Dogs (PG)
Robin Williams and John Travolta make you think “aw, man, that’s a shame” in Old Dogs, another one of those dispiriting “family comedies” that always appear near a holiday weekend.

Carefree Charlie (Travolta) and anxious Dan (Williams) have been best friends forever and business partners for more than a dozen years. Neither is married — the only thing Charlie can commit to is his ancient dog Lucky, and Dan is gun-shy after a divorce some seven years ago. Make that two divorces — shortly after divorcing his wife of many years, he went with Charlie to Miami, where he partied and then drunkenly married Vicki (Kelly Preston), whom he divorced a day later. Now, he learns that their brief marriage was nonetheless long enough to create children — fraternal twin seven-year-olds Zach (Connor Rayburn) and Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta). Vicki is going away for a few weeks and finds herself suddenly without a babysitter. Dan nervously offers to do the job, even though he’s never been good with kids and he and Charlie are (of course) about to complete the most important business deal of their careers.

Kitchen messes will be made, up-tempo classic rock songs will be played.

Seth Green, Lori Loughlin, Rita Wilson, Matt Dillon, Ann-Margret and even Amy Sedaris all show up in supporting roles of assorted sizes, as though just throwing recognizable faces at this stinky pile of non-comedy would somehow magically create laughs. And tragically, this movie also features the late Bernie Mac in a small role. Internet Movie Database has this film listed as his final film, and such a smart family-sitcom creator really deserves a better big-screen sendoff.

These are the comedies that try men’s souls. You feel not just not-amused but insulted — burdened with watching grown men who should be talented do nothing but aggravate and slowly depress you. Wearied — like returning to your house after a long day of working and finding that not only has your family not cleaned it, they’ve somehow made it exponentially worse than it was before. It’s the kind of malaise that sinks deep into your bones and makes you wonder if anything will ever be funny again.

Indeed, Old Dogs may make you so melancholy, so filled with angst and sorrow that you’ll grow pale with queasiness and your face will become fixed in a mournful expression. In which case, you’ll blend in just fine with the would-be vampires in line for New Moon, which is exactly where you should head if you need a good laugh. D+

Rated PG for some mild rude humor. Directed by Walt Becker and written by David Diamond and David Weissman, Old Dogs is an hour and 28 minutes long and opens in wide release on Wednesday, Nov. 25.