To describe the knockabout family comedy Old Dogs as a ramshackle mess doesnt begin to evoke the confusion and sloppy continuity of a movie whose disconnected parts sometimes appear to have been randomly assembled from a cutting-room scrap heap. Chaos reigns, the apocalyptic catchphrase from Lars von Triers Antichrist, might be more accurate. Even those professional charmers John Travolta and Robin Williams have their hands full trying to infuse some levity into their stick-figure characters.
Charlie (Travolta), a roguish bachelor, and Dan (Williams), a romantic softie, are lifetime best friends who run a successful sports-marketing operation in New York, although what they actually do is never shown. Through much of the movie they are pursuing an unspecified deal with a Japanese company, whose executives are portrayed as prudish, robotic ethnic clichés of Asian uptightness.
The movie, directed by Walt Becker (Wild Hogs) from a screenplay by David Diamond and David Weissman, imagines that seven years after Dans impulsive, one-day Florida marriage (followed by instant divorce), his alarmingly strident ex-wife, Vicki (Kelly Preston), arrives in New York dragging twins, Zach (Conner Rayburn) and Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta), whom Dan unknowingly sired during their brief relationship.
Vicki needs baby sitters for these charmless moppets. And when her best friend, Jenna (Rita Wilson), a hand model who agreed to take them, lands in the hospital after a grotesque manual mishap, Dan volunteers himself and a reluctant Charlie as temporary parents.
Once the children are in their care, Old Dogs succumbs to acute attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder as it devolves into a series of crude, ill-prepared slapstick bits and witless sight gags in which Charlie and Dans attempts to entertain the children are rebuffed with serial humiliations.
The abuses begin with a spray tan that turns Dans face into a conspicuous shade of chocolate. In an unfunny running joke, Charlie and Dan are continually mistaken as grandparents. A mix-up in the multiple medications taken by these soon-to-be old geezers plunges them into Alice in Wonderland territory, in which Charlies rubber lips freeze into a Joker-like grin during a bereavement ceremony, and Dans distorted depth perception makes him slam golf balls backward into the groins of his hosts.
Charlie hatches the bright idea to hire a childrens puppeteer (Bernie Mac, in his final screen appearance), who electronically wires the two temporary dads to become spasmodically dancing human puppets. The gag squanders a clever concept by giving them nothing really funny to do as they involuntarily twitch and wriggle.
They suffer the most brutal punishment during a game of extremely violent Frisbee while camping with the children at a Pioneer Scout Jamboree run by a grimly dedicated scoutmaster (Matt Dillon). In Dans ludicrous grand entrance at the twins birthday party in a zoo, he straps on a motorised superhero suit and awkwardly coasts into the affair from on high.
Even the movies inevitable turn toward sentimentality is just a tic rendered without conviction. Dan is attached to an ancient hound dog whose decrepitude is a metaphor for the movies contempt for its grumpy, middle-aged, would-be dads, with their medications and creaky joints. This imbecilic, mean-spirited farce, which sneers at adults, leaves you wondering: where are the Three Stooges when we really need them?