RATING |

You do not expect a movie with the title of Old Dogs to offer new tricks. On that score, it meets expectations. Nor do you expect a formula buddy comedy about men of a certain age to provoke belly laughs. On that score, however, Old Dogs exceeds (admittedly low) expectations.

From Walt Becker, maker of Wild Hogs, comes this situation comedy about longtime business partners, happy-go-lucky ladies' man (John Travolta) and unlucky-in-love schlemiel (Robin Williams). It runs a fast 88 minutes, is broad as the waistlines of its stars, and is remarkably family-friendly if you don't mind bathroom humor. For, in addition to its old-dog stars, there are young puppies: One is Travolta's adorable, apple-cheeked daughter, Ella Bleu.

The premise: Can childless, workaholic men emotionally bound to their BlackBerries (and professionally to each other) handle two fatherless 7-year-olds for two weeks without jeopardizing their own careers or the kids' welfare?

Like so many family films (including Williams' Mrs. Doubtfire and Hook), this one is engineered both to assuage the guilt of absentee fathers and to appease their neglected spawn. For the less-than-dutiful dad, Hollywood prescribes the story of the father (or in this case, father surrogate) who overcompensates for absence not by presence but by fulfilling kid fantasies.

Charlie Reed (Travolta, twinkling) and Dan Rayburn (Williams, hangdog) are in marketing. Charlie has never married. Dan is twice-divorced. During a week where they might land a big corporate fish, they are tapped as temporary caregivers to two children (Ella Bleu Travolta and Conner Rayburn).

Early on, the film firmly establishes that Dan is a hazard to anyone under four feet. And that as klutzy and gravity-bound as Dan is, that's how smooth and airy Charlie comes off.

Predictable as the premise is, Travolta's and Williams' unpredictability makes for some chortle-worthy slapstick, less of Laurel & Hardy vintage than of Abbott & Costello swill.

Whenever the pace lags, there's a cameo (from Matt Dillon, Justin Long, Seth Green, the late Bernie Mac) that adds zip. A child of 5 can see that these brief appearances serve to pad a gauze-thin script.

No matter. Old Dogs may not be good. But the sight of pesky penguins pecking Travolta and Green in the embrace of an unlikely partner makes it just good enough.

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crockey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/