By John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service
Though its back story is morally murky, the current proceedings in director Walt Becker's passable comedy "Old Dogs" (Disney) are mostly harmless. Still, a talented cast can do little with the thin, derivative script for this dizzy dad escapade penned by David Diamond and David Weissman.
Robin Williams and John Travolta star in a scene from the movie "Old Dogs."
As we learn in a series of flashbacks narrated with relish by his longtime business partner and best friend Charlie (John Travolta), seven years ago, unlucky-in-love sports marketing executive Dan (Robin Williams), while on the rebound from the breakup of his first marriage, became the tipsy groom in an ill-advised—and quickly annulled—second union with Vicki (Kelly Preston), a woman he had just met while bar-hopping through the South Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach, Fla.
Despite the swift quashing of their bond, Dan has continued to carry a torch ever since. So when Vicki responds to a letter he's written by proposing they meet, he assumes her aim is to revive their relationship. Instead, Vicki springs the news that Dan is the father of her twins, Zach (Conner Rayburn) and Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta, John and Kelly's real-life daughter).
With Vicki facing a two-week prison sentence for trespassing during an environmental protest, the kids need a temporary guardian and, by process of elimination, the reluctant, child-wary Dan becomes the only candidate. As Dan and Charlie try to concentrate on the career-capping business deal that just happens to be in the offing, Zach and Emily distract them with a combination of emotional pleas for attention and comic mishaps.
Though some of the gags, especially scenes featuring the side effects of mixed-up prescription pills, work well enough, the conversion tale that sees Dan forsaking all to prove his paternal dedication—and cranky professional bachelor Charlie turning out to be an old softie too—is entirely predictable.
One stage in Dan's transformation involves the final movie performance by the late comedian Bernie Mac, who appears as puppeteer Jimmy Lunchbox, an innovator whose technological breakthrough enables him to make Dan into a human puppet, thus loosening him up and controlling his movements during a costumed tea party with Emily.
An episode in which Dan and Charlie are mistaken for partners of a different sort and an exchange between Dan and Zach about where babies come from—though the latter, set in a bathroom stall Zach is noisily using, leads only to a befuddled Dan resorting to birds-and-bees talk—seem out of place in what was presumably conceived as a family-friendly offering timed for the holidays.
The film contains a drunken wedding, a few instances of vaguely sexual and mildly scatological humor, and some rough slapstick. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II —adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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