Personals problems

Must Love Dogs

Pooch plus park bench equals passable romantic comedy.

Pooch plus park bench equals passable romantic comedy.

Rated 2.0

Getting Diane Lane and John Cusack together in a movie seems like a good idea. And, despite its dated premise and by-the-numbers romantic-comedy script, there are moments of undeniable charm and good humor in Must Love Dogs. So, deciding whether to recommend it was a tough call.

In the end, I couldn’t give props to a film that features a family sing-along to the Partridge Family’s “Come on Get Happy!” I just couldn’t do it. All else being equal, the David Cassidy factor just did me in. This might seem a little shallow, but take it from me: This particular scene is a lethal movie-killer. It’s just so very wrong.

Lane plays the beautiful yet worn-out Sarah, recently divorced and contemplating that hellish endeavor of re-entering the dating world. Her nosy sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) posts an Internet personal on Sarah’s behalf, using her high-school-graduation picture, and the coyotes start howling and pissing at her door. One of the respondents is Jake, played by Cusack essentially as his trench-coat-wearing Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything, all grown up. Jake builds wooden boats that nobody wants to buy and deals with his recent divorce in a grumpy yet whimsical way that is very Cusack.

They meet in a dog park (which I would call a direct rip-off of the Bruce McCulloch film Dog Park), and their first date doesn’t go so well. Jake rambles on about the dishonesty of Sarah’s ad (“Voluptuous?”), and the two go their separate ways. Sarah gives other ad respondents a try, paving the way for a dating montage, featuring Crying Guy, Bring Your Child on the Date Guy, Impossibly Rude Guy, etc. Given that Lane and Cusack are the ones plastered on the movie poster, we’re pretty sure they will meet again.

Sarah is a preschool teacher, and one of her pupils’ fathers is hackneyed romantic-comedy mainstay Dermot Mulroney as a Seemingly Sensitive Dad Guy named Bob. Existing simply to delay the inevitable Lane-Cusack victory, Bob is just a time-killer. He has no chance for survival with Sarah, and Jake must prevail anyway, so Bob inevitably screws up.

The movie has a couple of very funny sequences. A frantic, late-night search for condoms is probably the high point and is surprisingly well-written and well-played by the stars. Lane does a good job with her droll reactions to the dating nightmares, and Cusack makes the most of his routine part, throwing in the occasional zinger of which he’s so uniquely capable.

Christopher Plummer, as Sarah’s sensitive dad, is required to do some ridiculous things with multiple girlfriends (including Stockard Channing), but he handles the burden with grace. Too bad he doesn’t grab his acoustic guitar and deliver a sensitive rendition of “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music during the family-sing-along scene. That would’ve rocked!

Generally, the premise of Internet dating feels old and played out; it’s a tired gimmick from which to make a movie. Throw in the dog-park thing, and you have a double-cliché offense. As far as Internet-dating movies go, this one is much better than the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan vomit train You’ve Got Mail, but it pales in comparison to the Sandra Bullock-Brendan Fraser laugh riot Internet Dates are Go! Actually, that movie doesn’t exist, but it seems like a possibility, doesn’t it?

This film is what it is, a standard date movie designed to contend with this summer’s machismo-heavy blockbusters. Cusack hasn’t done this sort of thing since 2001, so he was due, and Lane is just capitalizing on her Under the Tuscan Sun momentum. The movie has a sweet heart but rather a dumb head. Must Love Dogs won’t kill anybody, but it might maim a few, especially during the Partridge Family homage. You might want to cover up your ears for that one.