Old Dogs is a family affair for actor John Travolta, his wife Kelly Preston and their daughter Ella Bleu Travolta. The three of them star together (along with a couple of Travolta’s siblings) in this painfully, heartwarming family film about the challenges and joys of fatherhood.
John Travolta plays Charlie, a perpetual and aging bachelor who believes he is still capable of wooing the women even if it takes a pharmacy of prescription pills to keep all his body functions in check. He is especially interested in Amanda (Lori Loughlin), a young translator working in the office where he and his life-long pal Dan (Robin Williams) run a sports marketing company. The two men are about to close the biggest deal of their combined careers.
But just as their pens are poised on the dotted line, a ghost from Dan’s past shows up in town. Following Dan’s terrible divorce seven years earlier, Charlie hauled his despondent friend off to a tropical location where he got plastered, tattooed and married to a woman he’d just met—all in a matter of hours. When the alcoholic haze cleared the next morning, Dan and Vicki (Kelly Preston) decided to annul their nuptials. Now, she’s brought with her the results of their brief matrimonial union: twins Zach (Conner Rayburn) and Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta). Vicki also reveals she is headed for a two-week stint in the slammer for political activism and needs Dan to take on his fatherly duties while she serves her sentence.
Despite these guys’ skills in the boardroom, they are both lousy with kids. Figuring they only need to actively parent for about 90 minutes a day, they reluctantly agree to take the youngsters. The next fortnight includes a disastrous excursion to a wilderness encampment where the buddies are humiliated in a brutal game of Ultimate Frisbee with the camp director (Matt Dillon). They also mistakenly burn down a statue of the camp’s patron benefactor. And from there things just go downhill, on several fronts.
Many of the scenes involving Travolta and Williams resemble a standup comedy routine—snappy but short. The rest of the film is strung together with a mediocre storyline that includes jokes about the side effects of misused prescriptions, a urinating dog, and the ubiquitous ball-to-the-groin gag. As well, these aging ad agents are frequently mistaken for the children’s grandparents, a blunder that seems to be insulting to these two eternally adolescent-minded business partners.
While the script doesn’t offer any surprising twists, it does reiterate the important role of fathers in the lives of their children. And that is a positive lesson even Old Dogs can learn.