Two friends and business partners find their lives turned upside down when strange circumstances lead to them being placed in the care of seven-year-old twins.
Until the mid 1980s, the Disney studio was largely known for kids films, starring kids (or animated kids) and aimed squarely at kids of all ages.
It was in those heady days, with VHS home entertainment booming and the teen audiences that had fuelled the Lucas/Spielberg blockbusters of the late 1970s growing up, that the Disney executives thought it time they grew up....in a 'Disney’-kind of way.
So Disney started making films that still looked and felt like Disney films – cute kids, wacky adults, crazy situations and frantic comic moments – but which also included some heavier themes or nastier elements. The snow-covered top of this new Disney movie-output peak was Three Men & A Baby (1987, and directed by Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy!), a film that featured three upwardly-mobile 80’s bachelors (Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg, Ted Danson) suddenly encumbered with a cute baby girl who changes all their lives for the better. It was a massive hit, and everyone remembers the nappy-changing laughs, or the take-baby-to-work scenes; no one remembers the darker child-abandonment issues that remained unresolved or the fact that two drug-traffickers were out to kill all involved.
Twenty-two years later and the very same template is being used for the latest Disney 'issue’ film, Walt Becker’s Old Dogs. The serious issue being explored is late-age fatherhood – as Dan, Robin Williams (an old hand at serio-Disney films with Barry Levinson’s Good Morning Vietnam, Peter Weir’s Dead Poet’s Society and Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack all made under Disney labels) is a keenly-professional if tightly-wound businessman on the verge of the deal of a lifetime with a major Japanese outfit. The last thing he needs is for his ex-wife Vicki (Kelly Preston) to turn up with early-teen twins (Conner Rayburn and Ella Bleu Travolta) and throw his life into turmoil.
Much of the wackiness in Old Dogs is provided by John Travolta as Charlie, Dan’s longtime friend and business partner for whom life is an endless quest for hedonistic gratification. Neither Charlie nor Dan can refocus their work-centric lives right now (in fact, they already have one in the form of their passionate but incompetent underling, Seth Green), but the intrusion is unavoidable and the comic results slap-stickingly broad.
On the roller-coaster trajectory that is John Travolta’s career, Old Dogs represents a pre-Pulp Fiction plunge in line with Look Who’s Talking Now (1993); Robin Williams comes off slightly better, embracing the opportunity to play the (relatively) straight man to all the frantic antics going on around him. Director Becker, who tackled the issue of midlife crisis in the last serio-Disney hit Wild Hogs (2007), edits all the craziness at such a hyperactive level of reality, the film becomes reminiscent of the silent era pratfalls of the Keystone Cops.
Featuring a mixed-up-medication gag, a guy-in-a-gorilla-suit gag and a suntan-gone-wrong gag...well, you begin to understand the level of inspiration that went into the execution of the film. Matt Dillon, Ann Margaret, Rita Wilson and Justin Long appear just long enough to suggest that at one point, the script offered more than anything that made it on-screen.
Two things do surprise, though – Williams, a famously hirsute man, goes Speedo for the tanning scene and is a pinkish, follicle-free, man-boobed sight-to-behold (easily the film’s biggest laugh); and the late Bernie Mac makes his final film appearance (Disney delayed the release of the film by six months after Mac’s sudden passing).
So utterly forgettable as to have faded from memory the moment you raise your bottom off the cinema seat, Old Dogs feels like the sort of movie big stars make to earn some cash in between more important projects. Times have changed since ’87, when Three Men & A Baby won over cinemagoers to the tune of an extraordinary US$167million; Old Dogs bottomed-out at US$40million. Seems audiences need new tricks from the serio-Disney thinktank, or they’ll flee.