© 2009 Ray Wong
Thanksgiving week, and I had a choice of watching a post-apocalypse movie about cannibalism, or a brainless comedy about two old farts. I chose to laugh, and I'm not sure if I made the right decision.
Charlie (John Travolta) and Dan (Robin Williams) have been friends and business partners for over 30 years. Charlie, despite being in his 50s, is a player. Dan, on the other hand, is unlucky in love. They're on the verge of making the deal of their lives with a Japanese company. Then Dan's one-time flame Vicki (Kelly Preston) shows up and drops the bomb on him: he's the father of her twin 7-year-old children.
What's worse, Vicki is scheduled to serve some jail time, and situations arise such that she is desperate to find someone to care for the children for two weeks. Dan is horrible with children, but he wants to spend some time with his own children, so he reluctantly agrees. He also coerces the equally inapt Charlie to help him.
Meanwhile, the babysitting situation is interfering with their business deal. The children demand a lot of Dan's time, and he can't do it without Charlie. The two "old men" try their best to keep up but they're met with a series of mishaps that threaten both the deal and Dan's relationship with the kids.
John Travolta (The Taking of Pelham 123) hasn't done a comedy for a while, and he's okay as the middle-aged playboy. His comic timing is fine but the performance errs on the overacting side. In fact, such can be said about most of the performances in the movie. Robin Williams (Night at the Museum), believe it or not, is the restrained one. He juggles between playing earnest and goofy, channeling Mrs. Doubtfire (who is also trying to play nice with his own kids).
Nepotism seems to be in vogue here, with Travolta's wife, Kelly Preston (Sky High), playing Dan's old girlfriend and mother of his children. She's agreeable, although she and Williams don't really have much chemistry; thankfully, her role is minor and her screen time is limited. Travolta's teenage daughter, Ella Bleu, makes her debut playing one of Dan's twin. Her performance is unremarkable, to say the least. Conner Rayburn (The Invention of Lying) does a matter job as her twin brother. He has a memorable face and a goofy grin that is rather affecting.
The movie also boasts many guest stars, including Lori Loughlin (90210) as Charlie's love interest, and Seth Green (Sex Drive) in a throwaway part as Dan and Charlie's protege. Other cameos include the late Bernie Mac, Matt Dillon, Ann-Margret, Rita Wilson, Amy Sedaris, and Justin Long.
Written by David Diamond (Minutemen) and David Weissman (Minutemen), the screenplay shows how inapt the two are as writers. The story is paper-thin and the situations are forced. The jokes are recycled (for example, yes, we've seen the "tanning gone wrong" bit before; and tell me why Dan isn't mad as hell after that incident) and contrived. The ending is, of course, predictable.
As a comedy, though, they should at least make us laugh. The problem is, many of the funniest parts have already been shown in the trailers. There are other funny moments, but mostly the jokes are cringe-worthy and cliched, not to mention ageist. How many times can we laugh at these two guys being "old"? The "grandpa" joke gets old really quickly. Much of the comedy relies on humiliating the two leading men but doesn't serve the story -- I mean, really, getting hit on the crotch, repeatedly? The comedy also depends on racial, ageist and sexist stereotypes.
Director Walt Becker (Wild Hogs) reunites with Travolta for yet another comedy about "a bunch of old guys acting like infants." Granted, Becker is a capable director and he manages to keep the pace moving. Still, the plot is disjointed and irrelevant. The editing is chopping, and the whole execution seems like an afterthought.
Granted, I did find certain scenes amusing and I did laugh out loud a few times. However, over all, this is simply an asinine excuse for making fun a couple of older guys in the name of "family comedy." Despite a few hearty laughs here and there, the movie is a dog.
Stars: John Travolta, Robin Williams, Kelly Preston, Conner Rayburn, Ella Bleu Travolta, Lori Loughlin, Seth Green
Director: Walt Becker
Writers: David Diamond, David Weissman
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild rude humor
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 6
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total – 5.6 out of 10