Old Dogs (2009)

Crimes:

  • Wrapping ham in ham by casting John Travolta and Robin Williams as unmarried sports-marketing tycoons whose lives are turned upside down when the latter meets the children he didn’t know he had
  • Presuming that taking care of two well-behaved 7-year-olds for two weeks would be such a Herculean task that it would require expensive childproofing renovations and advanced cybernetic aids
  • Basing most of the humor on urine, excrement, and the heroes’ creeping decrepitude (that is, when the movie isn’t laughing at how often the leads are mistakenly identified as gay)
  • Taking a lurching turn toward sentimentality, and throwing in a phony “career or family?” dilemma for good measure

Defender: Director Walt Becker, producer Andrew Panay, and writers David Diamond and David Weissman

Tone of commentary: Wildly positive. When the creators aren’t laughing at their own jokes or pretending (?) to get choked up at the emotional moments, they’re praising routine flashback montages and actor-gestures as though they were glittering pearls.

What went wrong: They all went to great lengths to deliver a PG movie, yet they’re proud of themselves for sneaking in jokes about prostitutes and bear scat. (Though Becker admits that they were “going to the well too many times with the urination, so we decided to pull back.”) In fact, much of the commentary is spent admiring their own lowbrow ingenuity—sometimes in a tongue-in-cheek way, as when Becker calls it a “brave” choice to throw two nut-crack jokes into a scene, and sometimes more earnestly, as when Panay dissects the meaning of a moment where Williams watches his son take a shit. Becker jokes, “Robin and the kid were great, and then we just had to cheapen the whole thing with a couple of farts,” and Panay replies, “But there’s something real in here.”

Oddly, the team barely addresses the movie’s weird preoccupation with unnecessary technology, as in the scene where Williams wears remote-control clothing so he can make the right moves during a tea party with his daughter, or the climactic moment where he pops on a jetpack and a superhero costume and flies into the kids’ birthday party. They do, however, talk at length about the bit where Williams suffers through an aggressive spray-tan. Becker says it took forever to “figure out [the] texture and color” the booth should be, while Diamond and Weissman confess that they’ve never actually seen a real spray-tan booth. Hey, don’t sweat the details, guys. It’s only a major motion picture.

Comments on the cast: Travolta and Williams are lavished with praise for their chemistry—“One of the great onscreen pairings in a while,” says Becker—but the creators were even happier with cameo performances by the likes of Matt Dillon, Amy Sedaris, Justin Long, Rita Wilson, and Luis Guzmán, all of whom “did us a solid.” Those actors also brought their own ideas to the table, like Wilson’s decision to give her character a lazy eye, and Sedaris’ barrage of hilarious ad-libs, which didn’t make the final cut. Also singled out: Travolta’s character’s dog, who was able to pee on demand. “In our test screenings, he tested very high.”

Inevitable dash of pretension: Travolta’s comically insincere nod in one scene gets hailed as a “great moment in cinema,” while Panay adopts a hushed tone during one of the emotional moments. (“I don’t even know what to say to this. It’s a little bit like talking in church.”) Diamond, meanwhile, is very proud that he and Weissman were able to “take a lot of these scenes that you kind of expect in a Disney movie and then twist them.” Because the last thing they’d want to do is make a family movie that families might enjoy.

Commentary in a nutshell: “There’s a lot of Walt Becker specials in this scene. I love the pee down the front.”

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