Three fiftysomething jerks extend their adolescence way, way beyond the breaking point in Old Dads, a boorish and obnoxiously vulgar comedy that, since it can’t claim any other great distinction, might well have been expressly written to break the all-time record for use of the f-word in the major studio movie. Even Lenny Bruce might be twitching in his grave over this one.
There certainly have been plenty of comedies featuring guys who put off behaving like adults for as long as they can; perhaps The Odd Couple still stands as the quintessential example of this subgenre whose roots go pretty deep. In this case, the three buds behave as if they should be enrolled, not in grade school, but in some after-school course in remedial behavior; as one of the boys feels compelled to point out, “Daddy, you said a bad word.”
But as long as these three guys — Jack Kelly (writer-director Bill Burr), Connor Brody (Bobby Cannavale) and Mike Richards (Bokeem Woodvine) — hang out together, they seemingly can’t help but behave like the smart-asses they must have been in middle school; they even refer to girls and women by calling them the c-word in the schoolyard. Where is a military school when we need one?
It’s not clear how they pulled it off, but some of these guys have attractive wives who put up with them for some reason. As he reliably has throughout his very productive career, Burr knows how to write popular stuff for popular-seeking viewers. The more foolishly and irresponsibly his miscreants behave, the more the audience seems to get off on material that would appear to hit home with everyday audiences. Basically, they want to be Peter Pans who also get laid.
The plot’s trigger point has good-looking, full-of-himself twentysomething mogul Aspen Bell (Mike Robbins) firing the old-timers, which really takes the brakes off the over-the-hill mob. This leads before long to verbal volleying about body shaming, a statute of limitations on the f-word, a discussion of what to do when someone drops the n-word and heated discussions of numerous further hot-button usages that seem to be OK to use here as long as they’re put in the mouths of genealogically out-of-it white guys. They yelling goes on and on and on.
The yelling and screaming and recriminations pour out of characters’ mouths here as if they were in competition with Niagara Falls, and it can’t be said that Burr doesn’t have know the inner workings of these middle-aged men who behave and feel as though they’re being socially ostracized. But the guys bring it on themselves for trying to stretch their adolescence almost until it’s time to buy their burial plots.
Burr isn’t making this stuff up, as there is a core of thematic seriousness here concerning middle-aged big babies, but it’s so coarse and seriously over the top in its quest for laughs that it’s hard to switch gears sufficiently to take Old Dads seriously — as if Burr is trying to deliver a report from the socially changing front.
Still, in the film’s later scenes, there can be detected a viable strain of seriousness and truth to what the writer-director is struggling with, which perhaps suggests that this man of comedy might be heading toward a gravitas of a sort that, in this project, can be either recognized or ignored. Burr’s shrill, outrageous, over-the-topness is there in abundance for his fans, but so are its lunges of frosted seriousness.
Title: Old Dads
Premiere date: October 20, 2023 (Netflix)
Director-screenwriter: Bill Burr
Cast: Bill Burr, Bobby Cannavale, Bokeem Woodbine, Katie Aselton, Reign Edwards, Jackie Tohn, Rachael Harris, Katrina Bowden, Josh Brenner, Natasha Leggero, C. Thomas Howell, Justin Miles, Miles Robbins, Bruce Dern
Running time: 1 hr, 24 mins