Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Old Dogs": cheaper than taking LSD, but far more damaging to your central nervous system

"It was one of the craziest movies I've ever seen... it's a world where jet packs exist and no one blinks an eye... it's a world where the zoo is closed at three in the afternoon... not only is it closed, but they're having a birthday party on an island in the middle of it that you can't get to because all the boats are broken. You have to see it. It is amazing."
- Scott Aukerman on Doug Benson's "I Love Movies" podcast

Cinematically speaking, it has been a long couple of weeks for your favorite grumpy internet movie reviewer. The Oscar season coming and going necessitated a lot of review of, and reflection on, some of the heavier films of the year (make your own Gabourey Sidibie joke because I simply refuse). This past weekend, when I wasn't inhaling Guinness and celebrating my fraction of Irish heritage, I sat through the "Red Riding" trilogy, which has the same emotional impact as accidentally setting fire to a box full of sick kittens.

I needed something simple and light, a break from all the draining fare I'd subjected myself to for weeks on end.

Due to the aforementioned comments of comedian Scott Aukerman on an episode of Doug Benson's "I Love Movies" podcast, I settled on Old Dogs.

I will not eviscerate the movie for being bad, which it is. Most of the jokes fall flat, and I suspect I wouldn't have liked it too much even when I was young enough to be in the target audience. The fact that it is not terribly good is far from the most interesting thing about Old Dogs, and to merely point out the obvious here would be trite.

Rather, what strikes me about this film is the surprisingly deep cast of talented actors and comedians, and that without aiming for non-sequitur humor, it manages to be one of the strangest comedies I have ever seen.

Close friends of mine know that despite claiming to have a refined palate for film and comedy, I do enjoy some of the stranger corners of the humor world. I am a regular viewer of Adult Swim staple "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," and am probably one of the only people in the world to own the spinoff film on DVD. I also am a regular viewer of "Metalocalypse," and the bizarre "Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!," and will argue the merits of any spin off of "The State," such as the short-lived "Stella" series, "Reno 911!," or Wet Hot American Summer any day of the week. My video collection is filled with less extreme bizarre and whimsical comedies as well, such as the stand up of Zach Galifianakis, "Arrested Development," and "Flight of the Conchords."

The key difference between those movies and series is that the bizarre is often a means to an end, usually to point out how inane and predictable typical fare can be in the world of comedy.

Old Dogs is at times just as, if not more, bizarre than your strangest late-night comedy; the difference is that it is aiming for pure slapstick and repeatedly coming up woefully short.

Robin Williams and John Travolta are life-long friends who run a boutique sports marketing firm with Seth Green as their young go-to man and Travolta's dog that can't stand up without micturating. As they're on the verge of sealing a major deal with a Japanese firm (because Japanese people are silly gooses!), Williams learns that a one-night stand from the night his divorce finalized is back in town. And she's got their twin children in tow. Williams must learn how to be a good family man even if it's at the expense of his career.

That simple synopsis seems to have all the makings of a decent family comedy, does it not? It sure does! So why, then, have I done nothing so far but describe how awful and bizarre this film turned out to be?

Old Dogs, bless its heart, really swings for the fences at every opportunity, but takes place in a world of logic seemingly lifted from the surreal work of David Lynch. Can you imagine the lame comedic stylings of Charlie Chaplin (the poor man's Buster Keaton) combined with the insane horror of Blue Velvet? That, my friends, is Old Dogs in a nutshell.

The world looks like ours, but it does not operate like ours. Did you turn deep orange because of a spray-tanning mishap? No problem - the mother of your children knows "a few family secrets" that can get rid of it before you leave the restaurant you're in! Do people frequently mistake you for a grandparent? Watch out, because the staff of a breakfast joint will break out into song for you! Do you not know how to play tea party with your daughter? Don't worry, because your friend knows a puppeteer that can put an electrode in your pants that will make you dance to Wilson Pickett!

The world of Old Dogs is a world where being there for your family means attending a birthday party. The world of Old Dogs is a world where you don't bother to wipe bear shit off your face after you've been informed you smeared bear shit on your face. The world of Old Dogs is a world where a grown man doesn't think it's weird to stand in the stall and watch a boy try to take a dump.

The world of Old Dogs, even more bewilderingly, is populated with talented and funny people. Seth Green's Adult Swim show "Robot Chicken" is strange but often amusing, and here he even gets off a decent line when asking the children if they'll add popping bubble wrap to their resumes, but is in the film primarily to be coddled by a gorilla. The late Bernie Mac plays puppeteer extroadinaire Jimmy Lunchbox. Amy Sedaris has a brief role as a tenant at Williams' singles-only condo building. Matt Dillon, the Alec Baldwin to Kevin Dillon's Daniel, is a scout leader made of steel. Rita Wilson is a cross-eyed hand model. Ann-Margret is a grief counselor. Lori Loughlin trades in her wife-to-Uncle-Jesse boots for a pair of Japanese interpreter/hardly-present love interest pumps.

That's the cast that are actually listed. Not credited:
- Mac in the Mac/PC ads, as well as the best part of Zach and Miri Make A Porno, Justin Long, as a haggard spurned lover
- "Punk'd" regular Dax Shepard and Steven Soderbergh's go-to comic relief Luis Guzman as mindless safety technicians
- Vulgar comic Bill Burr as the guy with the jet pack, and, I think, also as a dad on a camping trip

The moral we're meant to take is that being there for your family is the entire battle. Presence. That's all. It doesn't matter if you're there only long enough to crash your jet pack into a lake and be wheeled off to the hospital, that's enough to show your kin you really care.

Oh, I forgot to mention: Kelly Preston, the mother of Williams' children, comes back into his life because she's going to jail for two weeks and has no-one else to really take care of the kids. So, there's that.

This film is bizarre. Hauntingly so.

I beg of you, internet denizens: take my word for it.

TOO MUCH: Uninspired songs on the soundtrack. "Let My Love Open The Door"? Really?

COULD HAVE USED MORE: Justin Long. His one scene was the most bearable of the entire picture.

FILM SNOB NOTE: Helmer Walt Becker cut his teeth on the vastly overrated Van Wilder, and the oddly successful Wild Hogs. The release of Old Dogs was delayed three times - first because of Bernie Mac's death, then because of the passing of Travolta and Preston's son Jett, and finally because of a health scare for Williams. Un Chien Andalou is a more concise and enduring nightmare on film.

IHYFM RATING: This really doesn't seem fair. Pass.

IF YOU SAID THIS WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE, I'D THINK: Either a) you work PR for Disney, b) you're addicted Ritalin and flashing lights, or c) you're legally brain dead.


  1. By the way, gang, I forgot to mention the fascinating collection produced by Jason Woliner, the guy behind the camera for "The Human Giant" troupe: it's called "Faces of Old Dogs". It delivers exactly what it promises.

  2. Pretty sure I just found another cameo, folks: Paulo Costanzo, the pot-smoking genius from "Road Trip" and Joey's nephew on "Joey", has two lines as a zoo custodian that tells Williams the tunnel to the birthday island is closed.

    I need to lie down for a while.

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