The cast in this cookie-cutter romantic comedy is almost enough to make me want to bump my rating up a half star. The movie’s not bad. It’s harmless and enjoyable — but it’ll float right out of your brain within a couple hours of seeing it, and there’s nary a single fall-down-funny gag in its entire length. You’ll remember that you had an OK time, that the players were good and that there were a few bright lines, but that’s it.
The screenplay by TV writer/producer Gary David Goldberg (Battery Park) may be adapted from a novel by popular writer Claire Cook, but it’s Romantic Comedy 101 all the way — even giving the heroine the obligatory gay best friend, which has become as much a staple of the format as the misunderstanding that separates the lovers during the penultimate reel. (I’m waiting for a movie about a gay couple with a straight best friend.)
Still, none of the couple dozen genre cliches keep Must Love Dogs from boasting a variety of transitory pleasures, mostly due to Diane Lane and John Cusack in the leads.
Sarah (Lane) and Jake (Cusack) are lonely, damaged divorcees who are thrust back into the dating pool by a well-meaning family (in Sarah’s case) and an equally well-meaning friend (in Jake’s case). Sarah’s sister, Carol (Elizabeth Perkins, The Ring Two), slaps a personal ad — complete with high school yearbook photo — of Sarah on an Internet dating service, after other efforts (including one where Sarah ends up on a date with her own father) fail. Not surprisingly, this will lead her to Jake: They’ll meet cute but not hit it off, only to be drawn back for another try, which will work out better — though problems will arise to break them apart until the final reel.
There’s nothing special about any of this, but the actors can almost make you believe there is, especially Cusack, who overcomes the screenplay’s sitcom mentality, achieving something akin to the performances he gave for Woody Allen (no mean feat, given the material at hand). Lane is charming, even if the role seems just too geared to showcase “all those things Lane does so well.” In addition, the rest of the cast just about makes you forget that you’ve seen this all before (and helps you ignore the movieland unreality of characters with little or no money who exist in more-than-comfortable surroundings).
There’s one interesting idea involving a 15-year-old Internet lothario who pretends he’s 17 and thinks he’s “dating” a 41-year-old (who’s actually 61). It’s rather sweetly charming, but it’s only one small stretch of film and it actually makes the rest of the movie seem even more standard than it is. The responses the movie hopes to evoke are about as Pavlovian as the dogs of the title, but it’s harmless stuff, for the most part, with some nice performances to help it sneak past. Rated PG-13 for sexual content.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke