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Charlie and Dan never got into the whole concept of family. Not really. They didn’t really need to. They had each other, after all.
For 30 years, these two high school chums hung out together, started a business together, and when Dan divorced his wife, they zipped down to Florida together where Dan got drunk, acquired a massive tattoo and married a near-complete stranger named Vicki.
Once Dan sobered up he knew something had to go … and he couldn’t get rid of the tattoo. So now Charlie tells business associates that Dan’s the only guy he knows who’s been "divorced twice in a 24-hour period."
Yes, the two of them (along with Charlie’s incontinent dog, Lucky) go together like cereal and milk, like turkey and stuffing, and sometimes … like Lou Dobbs and CNN.
Then one day, Vicki stops by for a visit. Dan hasn’t seen her in, oh, seven years. But spurred by a lovelorn letter from him, Vicki arrives to tell him that a) It’s really nice to see you again, b) I’m going to jail (but only for a couple of weeks), and c) I’d like you to meet your kids.
One thing leads to another. And when it turns out that Vicki could sure use a babysitter while she’s in prison, Dan volunteers to watch them—even though he doesn’t know anything about kids, doesn’t particularly like kids and most of his interactions with kids wind up with someone getting a bloody nose.
"You���re allergic to anything under 4 feet," Charlie tells him.
Dan acknowledges the truth of this kindly critique, and immediately drafts his best bud for babysitting duty, too. Charlie reluctantly acquiesces—even though the two of them are in the middle of the biggest business deal of their lives. I mean, how hard could watching two 7-year-olds be?
Digging past the frenetic fire-starting, back-injuring, full-contact-Frisbee-playing, penguin-attacking action, moviegoers will find an oddly touching rumination on fatherhood. For seven years, Dan’s kids have longed to have a father. Emily pretended he was a superhero. Zach made lists of what they might do together should they ever meet. And when Vicki received Dan’s out-of-the-blue letter, she suddenly realizes that Zach’s never seen the inside of a men’s restroom before.
"My kids are 7," she tells Dan. "They have a father. I thought it was time they got to know who he is."
Dan has no clue how to interact with them at first: He shakes hands with Emily to say good night at first, and he admits to both of them that he’s struggling to be a good father. But after scores of slapstick missteps, he comes to realize that he doesn’t need to be a superhero. He doesn’t need to be perfect. He just needs to be there.
And so he goes to outrageous lengths to do just that, giving up a career-making gig and risking the wrath of several zoo animals. "I just want to be with you guys," he says. "Forever, if you’ll let me."
Charlie and Dan showcase an odd but ultimately endearing friendship. Charlie works hard to help Dan connect with his children and risks his own well-being to reunite them. And Dan mourns with Charlie when his beloved Lucky passes away—bearing a new puppy to the funeral.
"You’re not just my best friend," Dan says. "You’re the best kind of friend."
Dan and Vicki get married in a church. (It’s an incidental detail seeing as how they’ve just met and are quite inebriated at the time.)
Because Charlie and Dan have been such close compadres for so long, some people wonder, at times, whether they’re not just "best buds," though none of the references would necessarily catch the attention of a typical 8-year-old.
When childproofing experts come to kid-proof Charlie’s bachelor pad, for example, the workers assume Charlie and Dan are a couple.
"That’s progressive," one says. "I’m all for it."
A counselor at a weekend wilderness camp makes the same mistake, and calls them "ladies," much as a drill sergeant would call green recruits ladies. When Charlie and Dan see a couple of real ladies in Florida, Charlie tells Dan to give them the "queen wave." Dan throws a limp-wristed wave in their direction before Charlie corrects him: "No, the other one," he says, and Dan begins waving a bit like the queen of England.
Dan and Vicki conceive their progeny in wedlock—albeit barely. (We never see them even kiss.) Zach asks Dan if he knows where babies come from, and when Dan says yes, Zach asks, "Can you tell me?" Dan dances around the subject before finally saying, "It’s complicated."
One of Charlie’s friends says, "Wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am." Charlie makes minor moves on a waitress, a spray-tan technician and a Japanese interpreter. (In the epilogue we see that he and one of the women are new parents; we don’t know if they’re married.) A couple of women wear somewhat revealing clothing, and Dan strips down to a Speedo.
Old Dogs comes from the Three Stooges school of comedy. And because it does there’s lots and lots of straight-up slapstick … and punchstick and bitestick and slamyourfingersinthetrunkstick.
That last item involves a hand model’s hand getting smashed in a car trunk. (The film’s makers must’ve assumed the gag would be funnier if both the woman’s fingers and career could be simultaneously crushed.) When Dan opens the trunk, the poor woman’s head gets bashed.
Dan thwacks a couple of business associates with golf balls, and kills a bird with one, too. Men are chased—and one is captured—by a gorilla. One guy is attacked by penguins that seemed to have missed their casting call for an Alfred Hitchcock film. (We see them biting his arms and ears, and there’s a suggestion that one chomps down on a more sensitive part of his anatomy.)
Dan plunges into a lake from a great height, necessitating an ambulance ride. He’s shocked by an electrical device he’s jammed down his pants. And he beans a kid in the head with a soccer ball. Charlie and Dan engage in the most violent game of Ultimate Frisbee ever. (One participant is shown with a mouth full of blood.) Dan shoots the head off a wooden monument and later sets it on fire.
"We should get merit badges for just being his kids," Emily tells Zach.
Crude or Profane Language
God’s name is interjected at least a half-dozen times. Characters say "gosh" another handful of times. Name-calling includes "idiot and "stupid."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Down in Florida, Dan and Charlie are served a couple of massive margaritas. "Do these drinks come with a diving board?" Dan asks. We later see the two toast a business success with champagne.
Dan and Charlie are getting older, and so they have several prescription medications to take each morning. When the children mistakenly spill the pills in the sink, they try to put them back where they were … but, of course, they wind up supplying Dan and Charlie with the wrong meds. The result: Charlie gets the munchies and eats a pie face-first in an embarrassing social situation; Dan loses all sense of depth perception on the golf course. Both also develop problems with their facial muscles.
Other Negative Elements
Zach accidentally spills a glass of water on Charlie’s lap in a restaurant—a spill that everyone around them mistakes for incontinence. That gag also expands to Charlie’s dog. Several steps worse, Dan smears what he thinks is mud underneath his and Charlie’s eyes. When he discovers that the "mud" is bear feces, Dan turns to Charlie and says, "Scat happens, man."
There’s more: Embarrassing noises come from bathroom stalls. "Poop" and other slang expressions for bathroom activities made it from script to screen.
Dan and Charlie break into a zoo. Dan tries to sneak his kids into his adults-only condo. Vicki lies to her kids about where she’ll be for two weeks, telling them she’s going to a spa. Child-proofing experts eat food that isn’t theirs. The kids stick a bunch of insulting sticky notes on the back of one of Charlie and Dan’s business associates. Several people act inappropriately in public settings.
Dan, Charlie, Emily and Zach watch one of the Friday the 13th movies.
Back in the day, when I was about 7, I used to schedule my weekend around a show called The Wonderful World of Disney. It was stocked with middling children’s movies that, for an adult, were painfully predictable. But they induced plenty of giggles in kids like me. Among them: The Cat From Outer Space, The Shaggy D.A., Herbie Goes to the Republic of Andorra.
Old Dogs reminds me, for better or worse, of The Wonderful World of Disney.
It’s more crass than the shows I remember, of course. Flatulence jokes? Urinating dogs? No way. Not back then. Saying "scat happens" on the most kid-friendly show on TV would’ve been enough to get you permanently tossed into Walt Disney’s doghouse.
But neither is Old Dogs like Wild Hogs, the last "family" film Walt Becker directed. Profanity is light, and the script goes through some amazing contortions to ensure that Dan does not sire his progeny out of wedlock. Family is at the forefront, as is selflessness and friendship.
I guess you could say this is one old dog of a film that tries to be family friendly even if it’s not exactly sure how to be clean and funny at the same time.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
John Travolta as Charlie; Robin Williams as Dan; Kelly Preston as Vicki; Conner Rayburn as Zach; Ella Bleu Travolta as Emily; Lori Loughlin as Amanda; Seth Green as Ralph White; Bernie Mac as Jimmy Lunchbox
November 25, 2009
March 9, 2010