So wretched that it should be unceremoniously put down (preferably via prolonged Marley & Me-style lethal injection), Old Dogs is a series of sub-sitcom sequences designed to destroy any affection once felt for John Travolta and Robin Williams. Walt Becker’s follow-up to Wild Hogs begins with one of those awful picture montages in which its stars’ young faces have been ineptly photoshopped onto other people’s bodies. That, alas, is the high point of this mind-boggling endeavor about sports marketers and best friends Dan (Williams) and Charlie (Travolta), whose lives are thrown into disarray when Dan discovers that a one-night fling seven years ago resulted in two kids and that circumstances—namely, their mom (Kelly Preston) having to spend two weeks in prison for political protesting—now dictate that he care for them. Thus, creaky and mopey Dan and ladies’ man Charlie are forced to pratfall their way through a tanning salon mishap and a camping trip, suffer the indignity of being mistaken for the kids’ grandparents, and flee for their lives from a raging gorilla and pack of biting penguins.
It’s hard to know what’s worse, Travolta’s grinning-idiot suave shtick or Williams’s sad-sack glumness, but perfectly clear is the bland middlebrow broadness of every frantic set piece, all of which lean heavily on crotch shots, goofy faces, and maniacal screaming. In his final screen performance, Bernie Mac helps Travolta control Williams like a human puppet via some weird robot suit during the new dad’s king-and-queen tea party with his daughter, a scene so insanely, illogically idiotic that it engenders outright contempt for its leads. Seth Green, Justin Long, Matt Dillon, and Rita Wilson all pop up to nonexistent effect except to highlight Becker’s underlying belief that comedy gold springs forth from the marriage of recognizable-personality cameos and toothless gags, a conviction matched by his certainty that preschool-level bathos is enhanced by zooms into close-ups accompanied by swelling pop songs or orchestral treacle. After yet another of their innumerable wacky mishaps, Travolta and Williams share a conversation that will no doubt be repeated by those unfortunate enough to sit through Old Dogs: “How bad was it?” “Bad.”