Standup comics directing themselves with material they also wrote are at risk of making something that feels like a long standup comedy routine, awkwardly retrofitted with characters and a smidge of plot, while lacking a strong style and point-of-view that would allow it to stand on its own two feet as something other than a brand extension. “Old Dads,” about three middle-aged Los Angeles men who become fathers decades after giving up on the possibility, is that movie.
Like “F is for Family,” the animated Netflix series created by and starring Burr, and like a lot of Burr’s early standup before he aged out of griping and became more introspective and nuanced, “Old Dads” is two-thirds a satire on “political correctness”—a loaded phrase which, as often practiced in standup, amounts to not being able to say anything at any given moment without encountering consequences. The remaining third is a meandering midlife-crisis buddy movie in which Burr’s character Jack Kelly and his two best friends and business partners (Bokeem Woodbine, Bobby Cannavale) find themselves drifting and stumbling through life after selling the vintage sports jersey replica business they founded together.
After the sale, the partners are kept on staff and made to watch as everyone born before 1988 is fired (a potential age discrimination lawsuit goldmine, though the movie treats it as a fait accompli), then becomes a parody of 21st-century tech bro and new media cliches. The young wannabe-guru boss, Aspin Bell (Miles Robbins), inundates his elders with disruptor culture buzz phrases while building a cult of personality around himself. As if that wasn’t enough to drive the combative and self-righteous Kelly into a frothing snit, Kelly and his wife Linda (Kate Aselton) are having difficulty at their son’s elite New Age-y private school because Kelly’s rooted-in-the-’70s version of parenting keeps clashing with the staff, administrators, and the other parents, a gaggle of soft progressive Yuppies who teach kids to put their emotions and sensitivities over everything and everyone else.
The “political correctness” part of “Old Dads” plays like a watered-down and somewhat more self-aware equivalent of one of those TV specials that are aimed at political reactionaries and that spawned the “triggered” meme. It follows the same playbook as a lot of Los Angeles-based, post-millennium comedy, going for cheap laughs by having characters blurt out inappropriate things at inopportune moments, then having bystander characters (often Linda) cover for the writers by explaining that you simply can’t do stuff like that while nudging the audience to feel that the world is cramping the politically incorrect character’s style. It’s a shame how coddled everyone has become, says “Old Dads.”