I have to admit that I approached Old Dogs as cautiously as I’d approach a rabid junkyard dog. With a story that sounds like another retelling of Three Men And A Baby and the setup, and director, of Disney’s Wild Hogs, it seemed pretty apparent that this film was not going to offer anything terribly new or exciting. When I started watching the film I discovered that I was pretty much right. This is very much Three Men And A Baby meets Wild Hogs. More importantly, I was also correct in believing the film wouldn’t offer up anything all that original or new. What I didn’t expect, and what will make this a film worth watching for you anyway, is that the delivery here is actually pretty special.
The story itself couldn’t be any more contrived. Charlie (Travolta) and Dan (Williams) have been best friends and business partners for over 30 years. They run a sports marketing firm and have done pretty well, even if they’re not the millionaires they always hoped they would be. They are the kind of Bromance couple that are always there for each other. In a story that Dan likes to tell clients to “break the ice”, we learn that 7 years earlier Dan got divorced and it nearly tore him apart. Charlie pestered him into taking a carefree Florida vacation where a one night stand led to a quickie marriage and annulment as well as an embarrassing tattoo, which was supposed to shout “Free Man” across his hairy chest, but due to a mixup in translation with the tattoo artist says “Freemont” instead. Now the boys are on the verge of a $47 million deal with a huge Japanese company that will finally get them the riches they’ve been seeking. Feeling on a bit of a high, Dan decides to set up a meet with Vicki (Preston) to see if he can fan the old romance flames once more. He gets more than he expected, however. Vicki has twins, Zach (Rayburn) and Emily (Travolta) and, predictably, they are Dan’s. Coincidentally, Vicki is about to serve 2 weeks in jail for a political activism stunt, and Dan ends up crushing the hands of her hand model friend, who just so happens to have been her babysitter for her time in stir. Dan, feeling suddenly fatherly, agrees to take the kids in an attempt to bond with his newly discovered family. The rest is pretty much what you would expect. Dan and “Uncle” Charlie try to seal the big deal and learn to care for the kids with the usual hijinks and comedic results. Because this is, after all, a Disney film, we know that the movie is going to end with one of those warm life lessons and everything is going to work out fine. Who does storybook endings better, right?
The first think you notice is that Travolta and Williams share some remarkable chemistry and rapport in the movie. Williams appears to have matured a bit and doesn’t appear to have that overriding need to go crazy and steal the spotlight and attention. He’s quite reserved here, and it actually makes him that much funnier for it. That isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have its over-the-top Williams slapstick physical comedy. It has plenty, but only goes too far over the top in a couple of the gags. There’s a drug mix-up that causes some comedic “side effects” that get taken beyond extreme, and the movie doesn’t have a shortage of the typical sight gags, like an overexposed liquid tan. Still, the movie stays in check long enough to let the characters shine through with real emotional moments that sell the whole thing. It doesn’t hurt that Travolta is working with his own real-life daughter in the movie, as well as his real life wife Kelly Preston. When Disney called this a family movie, they weren’t kidding around.
The best humor doesn’t come from the antics of the lead actors. The best stuff comes with the typical language barrier misunderstandings between Dan and Charlie and their prospective Japanese clients. There’s some genuine comic gold here, and the kids actually help to bring out a lot of that element. The kids themselves are pretty good here. They aren’t your typical Hollywood kids. Neither has that super sweet cuteness going on, and they don’t have to resort to tantrums or sugar-high manic romps. It’s all much more situational and tame by today’s standards. There aren’t even a lot of toilet humor bits in this one. So, while it might not be the funniest film I’ve seen in a long time, it is a pretty good movie that will entertain the entire family. What more could you ask for?
Old Dogs is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average 35 mbps. The bit rate is excellent here. I’m often asked what the high definition experience adds to a movie, particularly one that doesn’t really rely on spectacular effects, beautiful vistas, or enhanced visual tricks. This movie is a perfect example of my stock answer. It’s all about the realism of the picture. This one doesn’t stand out as you watch it. You’re not going to hear a lot of wows from your friends when you run it. If you’re trying to impress with your super hot gear, this isn’t the film to run. This is the kind of image that allows you to forget for 80 some minutes that you’re watching a movie at all. The detail, color, lighting, and sharpness all reach a perfect zenith of clarity that you just don’t think about it in “picture quality” terms. You can simply lose yourself in whatever is happening at any given time. That’s worth more to me than anything else a release can offer me. I want a film to carry me away to wherever it wants me to go. I could tell you how solid the image was. I could report that the print was pristine. And, I could assure you that black levels are deep and just brimming with shadow detail. All of these things are certainly true, but the best thing about this image is that you won’t think about it at all.
The DTS-HD Master 5.1 audio does everything it needs to do. This is a dialog film that doesn’t really require an active sound field or a lot of ambient sounds. You hear everything perfectly. It all sounds like it’s coming from where it appears to be coming from. No aggressive surround mix here. A solid, but not overpowering sub adds just that subtle hint of fullness. There is the occasional sight gag with accompanying zaniness in the soundtrack, but it’s all pretty straight ahead.
There are 3 discs here. There is a DVD copy of the film as well as the standard digital copy. There is also a Blu-ray disc which contains the film and the following features all in HD:
Deleted Scenes: (3:30) There are three in all with the optional play all feature. One is an alternate ending which merely adds to the provided conclusion. It’s pretty much an extended scene and doesn’t change anything.
Young Dogs Learning Old Tricks: (2:51) The two kids interview Robin Williams and John Travolta. It’s really just light fun.
Music Videos: You’ve Been A Friend To Me by Bryan Adams and Every Little Step by John Travolta and daughter.
Family fun comes at a premium these days. It’s hard to find material that works for adults but is still safe for the kids. You won’t find yourself rolling on the floor with laughter, but you’ll walk away from the generally short running time feeling as if it was some quality time with your own family. The film tanked at the box for the most part. I think most of you had the same fears and expectations that I had going in to this one, and who could blame you? But, it’s usually not always a good idea to judge a film from its individual elements. As a reviewer I can warn you to “watch out for sudden loss of depth perception.”