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Shallow 'Old Dogs' lacks emotional bite
By Dann Gire | Daily Herald Film Critic

Account executive Ralph White (Seth Green) serenades an amorous gorilla in Walt Becker's comedy "Old Dogs."


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Published: 11/24/2009 12:08 AM

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There's one sure way you can tell that Walt Becker's new comedy "Old Dogs" is better than his 2007 hit "Wild Hogs."

"Old Dogs" is 12 minutes shorter.

No doubt, the same crowds of fun-starved filmgoers who made "Wild Hogs" a box office winner won't be disappointed by "Old Dogs." About the only major difference is that the comically undercranked John Travolta has traded up in co-stars from Tim Allen to Robin Williams.

The primary appeal to "Old Dogs" rests in the breakneck pace set by the editing team of Tom Lewis and Ryan Folsey, who understand that the success of a slapstick-heavy piece of nonsense depends less on quality of material than on the quantity of material thrown at the viewer in record time.

What? You don't like the scene where Williams hits golf balls into the groins of his fellow players?

Hold on, here comes that zany part where Seth Green sings to an amorous gorilla to keep the beast happy and content.

Lost interest in that? How about the time that Williams and Travolta get attacked by a flock of sadistic penguins? (An homage to Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"? Pleeeease.)

If these scenes seem familiar, you've already seen them in commercials and theatrical trailers that lay out plot points and cannibalize major punch lines from the feature.

For the few who haven't seen these spoiler promos, Williams and Travolta play Dan and Charlie, lifelong best pals who operate a sports merchandising business together.

Their bachelor lifestyles take a hit when Vicki (Kelly Preston, aka Mrs. Travolta) turns up seven years after a romantic interlude with Dan to inform him that he's the dad of her twin children Zach (Conner Rayburn) and Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta, aka Travolta's real daughter).

Because Vicki has to go to jail for being an overactive political activist, she wants Dan to take care of their kids.

This couldn't happen at a more stressful time, because Dan and Charlie are on the cusp of making a zillion-dollar deal with a Japanese firm.

The message of "Old Dogs" is an old Hollywood chestnut that preaches the virtues of love and family over crass capitalistic, bachelor success.

"Old Dogs" doesn't exactly have the courage of its convictions. Dan is supposed to bond with his kids and have his life changed by them.

But Becker has little interest in the emotional honesty of his movie. Even the death of Charlie's beloved pet dog is handled with such detachment, it feels manipulative.

The shallow family bonding in this movie is just a plot hook upon which to hang a series of random comic vignettes.

Hey! Isn't that Ann-Margret as the head of a bereavement group that Dan and Charlie are bound to upset?

Look! Justin Long plays a psycho scout camper who wants Charlie dead because he resembles the man who stole his girlfriend.

How about that wasted cameo by the late Bernie Mac as Jimmy Lunchbox?

Like real old dogs, this movie should be put out of our misery.