Technically there is only one old dog in Old Dogs — a 15-year-old Great Pyrenees-Shepherd mix — but even though director Walt Becker frequently cuts to close-ups of the canine grunting with befuddlement for reaction shots, the movie isn’t really about him.
No, the title refers to the movie’s stars Robin Williams and John Travolta, who shot to superstardom in the 1970s, survived a series of career ups and downs over the next two decades and must now resort to starring in generic family comedies in which they play faint, PG-rated echoes of their former selves.
To their credit, they do not coast through Old Dogs. As Dan (Williams) and Charlie (Travolta), lifelong buddies and confirmed bachelors forced to learn the ropes of parenthood when Dan discovers he is the father of fraternal twins, the actors certainly give this feeble material their all. Travolta, playing the cooler, hipper one, swaggers and preens like an aged Tony Manero, still hitting on the ladies even after they mistake him for a grandfather with bladder-control problems.
Williams, the more timid and insecure, is a romantic still pining for Vicki (Kelly Preston), the one-night stand he met on a whirlwind tear through South Beach seven years ago. Then Vicki reappears and informs him — through a series of contrivances too belabored to believe — that he must take care of the children for the next two weeks.
Her announcement leads to a series of episodes — a stint at summer camp, a trip to the zoo, even an interlude in Tokyo — meshed together to pass off as narrative. The script feels as if it had been plotted on graph paper, which is why the movie seems three times longer than its scant 88 minutes.
Williams and Travolta are surrounded by famous faces in cameos or supporting roles. Seth Green, Matt Dillon, Justin Long, Ann-Margret, Luis Guzman, Dax Shephard, Amy Sedaris, Rita Wilson and the late Bernie Mac (in his final screen appearance) all contribute to Dan’s gradual realization that he’s a family man at heart.
His route to that conclusion is more than a little laborious, and if you replaced the famous names with lesser-known stars, Old Dogs wouldn’t seem at all out of place airing on the Disney Channel. But at least the movie pokes fun at the advanced ages of its stars, such as a funny sequence in which they accidentally take each other’s daily prescription pills and suffer the side effects. Anyone who grew up watching Grease and Mork & Mindy might feel a sad twinge as Williams and Travolta deal with blood-pressure medication issues or complain about stiff joints and cracked backs. But that nostalgia is part of the modest charm of this disposable but inoffensive picture. Old Dogs makes old dogs out of all of us.
Cast: Robin Williams, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Conner Rayburn, Ella Bleu Travolta, Seth Green, Lori Loughlin, Sab Shimono, Matt Dillon.
Director: Walt Becker.
Screenwriters: David Diamond, David Weissman.
Producers: Peter Abrams, Robert L. Levy, Andrew Panay.
A Walt Disney Pictures release. 88 minutes. Mild vulgar language.