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Old Dogs Blu-ray & DVD Review

Old Dogs movie poster Old Dogs

Theatrical Release: November 25, 2009 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Walt Becker / Writers: David Diamond, David Weissman

Cast: John Travolta (Charlie Reed), Robin Williams (Dan Rayburn), Kelly Preston (Vicki Greer), Seth Green (Craig White), Ella Bleu Travolta (Emily Greer), Lori Loughlin (Amanda), Conner Rayburn (Zach Greer), Matt Dillon (Troop Master Barry Taylor), Bernie Mac (Jimmy Lunchbox), Ann-Margret (Martha), Rita Wilson (Jenna), Amy Sedaris (Condo Woman), Residente (Tattoo Artist), Saburo Shimono (Yoshiro Nishamura), Laura Allen (Kelly), Nova Mejia (Rochelle), Sebastian (Lucky the Dog), Tom Woodruff, Jr. (Gorilla); Uncredited: Justin Long (Rick), Dax Shepard (Gary), Luis Guzman (Nick), DeRay Davis (Zookeeper)

Buy Old Dogs from Amazon.com: Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy • 1-Disc DVD • 1-Disc Blu-ray

Something about Old Dogs seemed to remind people of Wild Hogs. There were the short adjective-animal titles that almost rhymed. The two comedies also had a director (Walt Becker), a star (John Travolta), and a studio (the Walt Disney Company) in common.
And with releases less than three years apart, the movies looked to be cut from the same mold: that of a live-action cartoon meant to appeal to the masses. Even the poster art for each had famous middle-aged actors mugging straight ahead.

The one stage that drastically distinguished Old Dogs from its forerunner was in theatrical reception. Released in the early March window that's traditionally been good to Disney, Wild Hogs became one of the biggest hits of 2007 with a $168 million domestic gross. By contrast, Old Dogs assumed another of the studio's favorite debut dates, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. That is a day and a season that the whole industry is fairly fond of. It wasn't openers but holdovers (leading them, The Blind Side and The Twilight Saga: New Moon) that helped bury Old Dogs. Against fierce competition, Old Dogs hobbled. It is now destined to finish south of the $50 M mark in North America, narrowly above its reported budget but quite shy of expectations, especially for a film with little international appeal.

Disney wasted no time to display its disappointment with the picture, whose numbers trailed nearly all the company's Thanksgiving week entries of the recent past, including underperformers like 102 Dalmatians and The Haunted Mansion. Within weeks of Old Dogs' weak debut, Disney's new chairman Rich Ross pulled the plugs on two projects moving toward production: Wild Hogs 2: Bachelor Ride, a sequel that Becker, Travolta, and other key talent had committed to, and a comedy called Wedding Banned that was to star Old Dogs' second-billed funnyman Robin Williams.

Stop right there. You're telling the overly tan Dan (Robin Williams) that he has a pair of 7-year-old twins? That's wacky! Facial paralysis causes this creepy wide smile to freeze on Charlie's (John Travolta) face at an inopportune time.

Travolta and Williams play Charlie Reed and Dan Rayburn, a couple of New York businessman who, an opening montage of poorly Photoshopped pictures tells us, have been best friends for a really long time. Although their entire modus operandi appears to be sharing an embarrassing anecdote then exploiting the broken ice, the men have met success and wealth in their work as big shot sports marketers (again, see the Photoshop montage for unconvincing evidence that they've been spotted with the likes of Anna Kournikova). Amidst all that strategic schmoozing, Charlie and Dan haven't gotten to settle down or build families. While that suits Charlie fine, divorcee Dan has been feeling a void.

As luck (or a comedic screenplay) would have it, a lovely woman briefly in Dan's life and still on his mind happens to be in town. Seven years earlier, for about 24 hours, Vicki (Kelly Preston) was married to Dan, the result of an impulsive vacation rebound wedding meant to soothe the pain of Dan's fresh divorce. The second union was annulled, but Vicki has a bombshell to drop: in their one night together, two children were conceived.
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The 7-year-old fraternal twins are excited to meet their father and unattached Vicki thinks it's a good idea. Besides, as the result of about the most unobjectionable display of political activism you can imagine, Vicki is about to (secretly) spend two weeks in jail.

Here comes the twist you'd never foresee: the only person with whom Vicki would entrust her children, her cross-eyed hand model best friend Jenna (Rita Wilson), suffers the kind of unthreatening but sidelining injury you can certainly count on seeing. There's only one conceivable solution: Dan will have to take care of the kids for the two weeks. And absolutely no babysitters, Vicki insists. And because he lives in an adult-only condo community and is caught trying to sneak in the kids, Dan will have to temporarily move with Zach (Conner Rayburn) and Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta) into the bachelor pad of "Uncle" Charlie.

With all that exposition getting us to the starting point, the main event begins. Two men who know nothing about kids fumble through a crash course of hands-on parenting. To complicate the situation, Dan and Charlie are right in the middle of negotiating with a very important potential client, Japan's Nishamura Media Group (headed by Sab Shimono).

Zach (Conner Rayburn) and Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta) point to their two new dads, giving serious Troop Master Barry (Matt Dillon) the wrong idea. Vicki (Kelly Preston) checks in on the kids, making a phone call from the homiest women's correctional facility committed to film.

At this point, being aware of any of the rampant negative press on Old Dogs seems to work in the film's favor for those who out of obligation or curiosity end up watching this film. I imagine the phrase "not that bad" will be uttered by the lips of many viewers expecting an unfunny disaster of epic proportions. Few will go much further in endorsing this routine family flick, but it certainly isn't the painful exercise some would have you believe. The setup parts especially come close to being something you could call entertaining as the characters and far-fetched premise are laid out. I would be lying if I said I didn't laugh and again if I pretended they were at unintentional sources.

Somewhere along the line, though, you realize this whole thing is really tired and uninspired. Actually, you probably recognize that early on, but you're probably open-minded enough not to mind until the stale gags are broken out. A tanning salon mishap renders Dan brown (but not a bestselling author of religious mystery-thriller fiction). An Ultimate Frisbee game gets physical when two of the pioneer scouts at a convenient gathering take offense to our antiheroes. A great pill mix-up eliminates Dan's depth perception and freezes Charlie's face with an unsettling, wide smile. And the two fiftysomethings are mistaken for grandparents, repeatedly, and gay men, more subtly.

Not all of these hijinks fall flat enough to bother you. Some, like the tea party play scene in which Dan becomes a human puppet for Charlie to control from the next room, are pretty idiotic. Others, such as a random bereavement group munchies episode, are in poor taste. But it's really when the movie tries to grow a heart and get serious (read: hopelessly mushy) about parenting that it flounders. Even if you know this kind of film and recognize it needs something to ground it and supply the inevitable redemption, you'll wish they did a better job. Perhaps it was decided that since the scripted hilarity (crotch shots et al.) wasn't all that hilarious, the emotional parts didn't need to be too poignant.

In his last film released, late comedian Bernie Mac plays Jimmy Lunchbox, an entertainer who lets Charlie (John Travolta) try out his human puppeteering technology. With his depth perception gone as a side effect of mistaken medication, Dan (Robin Williams) gets very close to greet Mr. Nishamura (Saburo Shimono). Oh for silly!

It's at this point of the review where some critics would break out the hyperbole and go for broke. Fault Becker, writers David Diamond and David Weissman, and the cast for not trying to expand upon formula or craft a film with any worth.
I'm not nearly bothered enough by the film to go there. This isn't a great movie or even a good one, but I don't lament its creation or charge its makers with a lack of effort. From conception, this production was meant to be a product, a broad, familiar, star-driven one sure not to go unnoticed. It didn't go down as planned and Old Dogs wound up being about as unnoticed as something like this could. I'd still rather watch this than most of Disney's recent talking dog movies.

Robin Williams, who has done this sort of father/father figure family comedy before, is the best thing about the piece, even saddled with the lamest sentiment. Travolta isn't as comfortable, but he's mostly okay wandering into family comedy with his wife Preston and daughter Ella in toe playing his best friend's baggage. In case your eyes glazed over the cast list above and you missed the trailer spelling most of them out, I feel obligated to name some of the many other recognizable actors you'll find here: Seth Green as the guys' third wheel at work, Lori Loughlin (Uncle Jesse's wife on "Full House") as a Japanese interpreter, the late Bernie Mac (in what appears to be his tardy final credit) as a showy puppeteer friend consulted, Matt Dillon and Justin Long as the disapproving pioneer scouts, Ann-Margret as a grief counselor, and uncredited Dax Shepard and Luis Guzmαn as dim-witted childproofers.

In retrospect at least, it isn't too hard to see why Old Dogs struggled to find audiences while Wild Hogs prospered. The two movies may have gotten an equal percentage of vitriolic reviews from critics. But Hogs was a PG-13 Touchstone film, geared at adult audiences who would know and like its baby boomer stars and storyline. Dogs played things even more broadly, carrying the Disney name and a PG rating. The latter film had to vie for families' holiday season dollars, competing against other event-type movies from Disney itself, like A Christmas Carol and The Princess and the Frog.

Old Dogs faces some of the same competition coming to home video next week in a month chock-full of family movie debuts. Just as Disney was approaching the one-year anniversary of establishing three types of releases for its newest big movies, Old Dogs and others arrive to changing tiers. Gone is the "Deluxe" DVD with digital copy, a set whose excessive premiums for modest additions no doubt turned away most customers. Those buying Old Dogs can choose from a single-disc DVD ($29.99 SRP), a single-disc Blu-ray ($39.99 SRP), and a three-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo ($44.99 SRP). That last arrangement is the one Disney would most like you to purchase and it's the only one they've sent out for review.

Buy Old Dogs: Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

BD: 1.85:1 Widescreen, DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby 5.1 (Eng, Fre, Spa, Mex)
DVD: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish,
Mexican Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Mexican Spanish
Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Release Date: March 9, 2010
Three single-sided discs (1 BD-50, 1 DVD-9, and 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $44.99
Double-wide blue keepcase with tray in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in 1-Disc DVD and 1-Disc Blu-ray


DVD presents Old Dogs in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Although the film's visuals are nothing special to look at, the DVD delivers spectacular picture you'll appreciate anyway. I had a similar reaction to the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. There isn't much out of the ordinary aurally (mainly just an engulfing plate-shooting target practice scene), but the disc does a good job of crisply and clearly providing the audio including predictable (Vangelis' Chariots of Fire theme) and unlikely music sample subjects (Theodore Shapiro's You, Me and Dupree score). Recognizing the immense Latin American appeal of Seρores Travolta and Williams, Disney has added a dub and subtitles in Mexican Spanish besides the usual Spanish and French offerings.

The Blu-ray presentation of the film is very good but difficult to really scrutinize due to the source material. Old Dogs features overly warm color timing and skewed contrast. Because of that, skintones look rather orange, blacks look grayish, and whites are a bit blown. Apparently that's the intended look of the feature if one were to use other promotional materials as reference. With that in mind, the image is replicated accurately. The disc's DTS-HD soundtrack is solid given the comedy nature of the film. Dialogue is clear and understandable, and the music is mixed at appropriate levels in regards to the other elements. Surrounds aren't frequently used besides general ambience, but a few key scenes do exhibit some strong effects work. There's little to complain about here.

The bloopers reel shows us some of the 
hilarity occurring between takes, like Robin Williams and John Travolta misquoting "Brokeback Mountain." Amanda (Lori Loughlin) explains Dan's canine funeral puppy faux pas in this deleted scene. In "Young Dogs Learn New Tricks", actor Conner Rayburn asks co-star Robin Williams questions that are very obviously not his to begin with.


The DVD's average supply of bonus features begins, of course, with a reel of bloopers (2:25).
Unsurprisingly, spontaneous Robin Williams is focal here as scenes break up and subtitles clarify the witty character-breaking actor banter captured. With a few Williams curses bleeped, the outtakes remain G-rated and probably suffer for it. I get the feeling these moments would amuse those who were there when they happened, but they do little for us.

Next up is a trio of short deleted scenes running 3½ minutes altogether. The longest, an extension, has bickering Charlie and Dan being pulled off a Japanese airport security line for a "body checku." The shortest one prominently features Lori Loughlin. Finally, there is a mildly altered version of one of the end credits tag scenes.

It's a bit surprising to get an audio commentary on such a critically reviled movie, but director Walt Becker, producer Andrew Panay, and writers David Diamond and David Weissman supply one here. It's more interesting than the typical commentary, especially since the group has a much higher opinion of their work than most people will. Praise is lobbed at the stars' chemistry, each other, and anyone else involved in production. Amidst the back-patting come more factual reflections, regarding filming locations, the challenges of being funny with a PG rating, and deleted bits they were sad to lose (but evidently not sad enough to preserve on the DVD). The speakers aren't really any funnier than the film would lead you to expect, but they make for an easy listen, as they take credit for jokes and report on big audience laughs. Their own delighted reactions seem sincere, although tellingly their heartiest laugh comes at a schmaltzy bit.

Listed as bonus features but not feeling much like them are the Dylan & Cole Sprouse "Blu-ray is Suite" pitch (4:43) and DisneyFile digital copy briefing (1:03).

Not only are there extras exclusive to Blu-ray, there are Blu-ray extras exclusive to this combo pack that the DVD-less standalone Blu-ray lacks. The first of these is "Young Dogs Learn New Tricks" (2:51). Here, the film's two child actors, Conner Rayburn and Ella Bleu Travolta, interview their onscreen guardians. Rayburn is paired with Robin Williams, while Ella is paired with her actual pep-pep John. Questions range from the ordinary ("What's your favorite scene?") to the silly ("Even though I'm not really your son, will you still pay for my college tuition?"). It's an inconsequential fluff piece.

Although Bryan Adams and his band perform "You've Been A Friend to Me" in the same white void famously occupied by Beyoncι, no gyrating hips are to be found here. Ella Travolta's contribution to the song "Every Little Step" isn’t singing; it's merely reciting some dialogue to her father John during musical breaks. Charlie and Dan fist bump while the Seth Green/zoo gorilla gag apparently popular enough to receive focal cover placement is shown on the DVD's animated main menu.

Two music videos round out the Blu-ray-exclusive extras: Bryan Adams' "You've Been a Friend to Me" (2:57) and John & Ella Travolta's "Every Little Step" (3:36). Both provide minimalist black & white visuals to accompany their harmless songs. Of the two, Adams' number is a combo-exclusive, while the Travoltas' is available on both Blu-ray packages.

Finally, the third disc is a DVD-ROM digital copy for the two or three people out there who want to enjoy Old Dogs on the go but can't stand the thought of transporting a heavy disc and a laptop or portable DVD player. Simply insert the future coaster to your computer, enter the code, and transfer this baby to your device of choice in iTunes or Windows Media formats.

The DVD's animated main menu rotates through wacky character stills while a standard montage plays in a small window. The bonus features menu supplies different stills and score accompanies all selection screens. The Blu-ray's menu is similar, with only a few images shifted to make room for the right-hand-expanding pop-up menu. Each main menu selection leads to a different character cutout beside the running montage.

The FastPlay-enhanced DVD loads with promos for Disney Blu-ray, Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Disney Movie Rewards. To this bunch, the Sneak Peeks menu adds a Genuine Treasure PSA and ads for When in Rome, The Princess and the Frog, Toy Story & Toy Story 2 Blu-rays, James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition, and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. All of the same ads are found on the Blu-ray disc as well.

Inside the thick blue Blu-ray case (which is, of course, fitted with an embossed slipcover that lets each leading man claim a spine) are your combination Disney Movie Rewards/DisneyFile code and that precious booklet touting the memory-creating side of Disney Blu-ray.

Oh dear! The Shea Stadium JumboTron mistakenly identifies Charlie and Dan as grandparents. Those old dogs! It's apparently turbo time as Dan tries to jet pack his way to superdad status in the hair-raising conclusion to "Old Dogs."


Despite being a Worst of 2009 list fixture and garnering four Razzie nominations, Old Dogs is definitely watchable.
But, even if you enter with rock-bottom expectations and come away pleasantly surprised, you aren't likely to wholeheartedly enjoy or recommend this standard family comedy. While it has a few amusing moments, middle-aged humor in grade school packaging doesn't win over either of those demographics. Still, there are worse movies out there and Disney's live-action output has been so poor lately that this doesn't stand out.

Old Dogs is worth seeing at some point, but don't go out of your way unless you're really crazy about this cast.

Buy Old Dogs from Amazon.com: Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo / 1-Disc DVD / 1-Disc Blu-ray

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Related Reviews:
New: Ponyo • Gary Unmarried: The Complete First Season • Everybody's Fine • Air Bud: Golden Receiver (Special Edition)
Directed by Walt Becker: Wild Hogs | Written by David Diamond & David Weissman: Minutemen
Disney Comedies: Bedtime Stories • G-Force • The Game Plan • Enchanted • Jungle 2 Jungle • The Shaggy Dog (2006)
Daddy Day Camp • Jingle All the Way (Family Fun Edition) • 17 Again • The Proposal • Year One
Paul Blart: Mall Cop • Four Christmases • Confessions of a Shopaholic • The Spy Next Door

The Cast of Old Dogs:
John Travolta: Bolt • Ladder 49 • Saturday Night Fever • The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Robin Williams: Mrs. Doubtfire • Aladdin • License to Wed • Night at the Museum • Popeye
Robin Williams (cont'd): Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian • World's Greatest Dad • Good Morning, Vietnam
Kelly Preston: Sky High • Death Sentence | Seth Green: Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side
Matt Dillon: Herbie: Fully Loaded • Tex | Justin Long: Alvin and the Chipmunks (SE) • Galaxy Quest (DE) • He's Just Not That Into You
Lori Loughlin: Full House: The Complete Seventh Season | Ann-Margret: The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
Bernie Mac: Mr. 3000 • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa • Ocean's Thirteen • Transformers

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Reviewed March 2, 2010 / Updated March 8, 2010.