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Overall Rating

Awesome: 1.43%
Worth A Look: 21.43%
Just Average: 1.43%
Pretty Crappy: 35.71%

8 reviews, 22 user ratings

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Must Love Dogs
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Despite the stars, the title perfectly describes the potential audience"
2 stars

I am fairly certain that I am not alone when I say that Diane Lane and John Cusack are two of the most instantly engaging and likable American actors to have appeared over the last couple of decades. The former has been breaking hearts ever since her major-league debut in the charming pre-teen romance “A Little Romance” (and went on to become a crush-for-life for a certain 13-year-old critic-to-be with her appearance in “Streets of Fire”) and her recent career resurgence, thanks to “Unfaithful” and “Under the Tuscan Sun,” after a decade or so in which no one really seemed to know what to do with her, is one of the very few recent developments in Hollywood that can be looked at with a genuine sense of pride and accomplishment. Cusack, for his part, has become one of the most engaging of leading men–an actor who is perfectly willing to accentuate his sweetness, intelligence and quirky sense of humor instead of dumbing things down for the lowest common denominator and whose choices in films (I’m thinking of such works as “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “High Fidelity,” two films that look better and better with every passing year) have always reflected that approach.

Therefore, the idea of teaming the two of them up in a film–especially a romantic comedy in which they could play off of each other–sounds like a slam-dunk idea for a smart and entertaining film. I know that I would pay good money to see such a thing. Having seen “Must Love Dogs,” I am still waiting. This is a shockingly disappointing and derivative run through the draggiest rom-com conventions that you could possibly imagine and forces Lane and Cusack to go through the motions of playing two characters without any particular wit, intelligence or charm. In fact, the only surprise to be had comes from the very fact that the two actors would choose to appear in something as trite and formulaic as this.

The two play Sarah and Jake, a couple of well-scrubbed thirty-something types who have both recently undergone painful divorces and, as a result, are less than eager to return to the dating scene. For Sarah’s large and aggressively annoying father, this will not stand and they stage an intervention in order to force her to go out and mingle again. Jake’s best friend/lawyer Charlie (Ben Shenkman in what would have once been the Jeremy Piven part) feels the same way–he can’t understand why Jake would want to sit at home and obsessively watch “Dr.Zhivago” instead of nailing every bimbo in sight. After a couple of disastrous forays–including one in which Sarah answers one appealing personal ad and discovers that it belongs to her own father (Christopher Plummer)–both are ready to pack it in for good. In response, Sarah’s sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) signs her up with an online dating service behind her back and Charlie answers the ad behind Jake’s.

In the real world, they would realize upon their first meeting that they are perfect for each other and spend the rest of their time antiquing and going to brunch or whatever it is that smart and attractive couples do when they are in love. Alas, they have the grave misfortune to be trapped in a movie that requires that their obvious attraction be thwarted by any number of pointless complications until the final reel kicks in. This time around, their first meeting is complicated when he seems too weird and she seems too off-putting. Another date goes better but is hampered by an endless and fruitless search for a condom (in a sequence that illustrates what “Booty Call” might have been like in the hands of Nora Ephron). There are even more predictable complications as well, such as the presence of the seemingly perfect divorced dad (Dermot Mulroney) of one of Sarah’s pre-school students and at least two of those situations where one character finds another in a seemingly compromising position with a third person and totally misreads everything. In one really inexplicable bit, Dolly (Stockard Channing), a trailer-trash queen who is one of the many girlfriends of Sarah’s father, calls Sarah, who she has barely met, away from a date with Jake in order to help her when an Internet relationship backfires and her 17-year-old suitor turns up at her double-wide and sees no problem with the age difference.

I don’t object to the essentially predictable nature of “Must Love Dogs”–I suspect that anyone sitting down to see it will know from the get-go that Cusack and Lane are most likely going to wind up together by the time the final credits roll. What I object to is the way that writer-director Gary David Goldberg pitches everything on the level of a second-rate sitcom. Of course, Goldberg himself comes from the world of TV sitcoms, having created the likes of “Family Ties” and “Spin City”. The difference, however, is that those were first-rate sitcoms that were relatively unique and clever while “Must Love Dogs” demonstrates a lazy reliance on cliched situations and characters that is surprising given his previous work. In this film alone, we are subjected to such sights as cute dogs, cuter kids who say the darndest things, wacky ethnic types, a series of goofy blind dates with people who demonstrate their one hilarious trait and then disappear, a seemingly perfect guy who turns into a monster the moment that the screenplay requires him to do so, a wacky sleazeball best pal for Cusack, a wacky gay best pal for Lane, a couple of dopey blonde bimbos, heartfelt moments where people Learn a Valuable Lesson and a cast of characters who must realize that they are in a sitcom because they pause after each bon mot to allow the laugh track to do its business. Hell, there is even a theme song–there is a bit where many characters burst out into a rendition of the theme to “The Partridge Family.” (If you ever wanted proof that Hollywood has no idea what to do with actresses of a certain age, consider that a decade ago, Stockard Channing was electrifying audiences in the film version of “Six Degrees of Separation” and is now reduced to singing along to “C’mon, Get Happy!”

The hell of it is that none of these distractions (did I mention the soundtrack filled with safe, non-threatening tunes from the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Sheryl Crow?)add anything to the film but running time (even at a reasonably trim 100 minutes, it feels outrageously padded) and that the few appealing moments to be had are the ones where Cusack and Lane are left alone. Even though Lane is playing essentially the same role that she did in “Under the Tuscan Sun,” she is so appealing and sexy that you don’t really mind, except for the tiresome moments where some jerk talks about her being too old in a cheap effort to build sympathy–even in her frumpier phase, she is still hot enough that most people I know would crawl through broken glass to get near here. Cusack is also coasting here, and you occasionally get the sense that even he realizes that, but he is charming and affable and knows how to make even unpromising lines sound funnier than they really are. (In his hands, a phrase like “Do I get my meat?” becomes comic gold.) When the two of them get together, the scenes have a genuine spark that is detectable even buried beneath the other junk and I began to wish that Goldberg had the smarts to jettison all of the excess material and simply focus on the growing relationship between the two of them. Does he honestly believe that his film is improved by the addition of the kind of Level One schtick that you can find on the tube every night? If so, does he really think that people are going to be willing to spend $10 for what is essentially an extended version of the stuff they can see at home for free?

Of course, the summer has been fairly weak in terms of romantic comedies and I wouldn’t be surprised if “Must Love Dogs” found itself winning the position of the summer’s top date movie, by default if nothing else. Although I can’t recommend “Must Love Dogs” to most audiences, I will concede that it is a perfect film to take someone to on a first date. If you go and your date actually likes it, take that as a sign to thank him or her for a lovely evening, give them a firm-but-friendly handshake and lose their phone number as soon as it is convenient.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12657&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/28/05 23:59:34
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User Comments

11/30/06 SabresFanatic Disappointed. Needed more of Cusack and Plummer 3 stars
7/09/06 Marty i liked it and i don't know why. diane lane's hot maybe? 4 stars
5/07/06 Diane Perkins boring, love diane and john but neither very good in this movie 2 stars
5/02/06 Ashley Hinz I won't watch this again. What a waste of Plummer and Cusack. 2 stars
1/29/06 Lily It's just one big "perfectmatch.com" commercial. 2 stars
12/25/05 zhivago john cusack is incapable of making a bad movie 5 stars
11/10/05 Jinx This movie stinks. Too much sex and innuendo. 1 stars
10/29/05 Rover Must hate contemporary "romantic" "comedies"! 1 stars
10/28/05 Mrs. Casey Donovan Diane Lane is an obnoxious skank. I'd like to stuff scorpions up her rectum. 1 stars
10/28/05 Allison Lafferty Anyone else notice "heroine" is an unlikeble self-centered brat? 1 stars
10/28/05 Jenny Tullwartz If it's really yourself you're mad at, break your own damn glasses, for pete's sake! 1 stars
10/15/05 Aaron Terrible. 1 stars
10/12/05 eddiejohns You must really love dogs to love this movie. It bites! 2 stars
10/11/05 Josh Swanson Total garbage. Not worth my time or money...got in for a free screening...no wasted money! 1 stars
10/06/05 Don Your review is so spot on its funny, but I still loved the movie; Im in love with DL 4 stars
10/06/05 Susan I knew it! yucky! 1 stars
9/28/05 Sarah was ere my name is sarah darymple i loooveee emaweise 1 stars
9/21/05 karen romantic 4 stars
8/08/05 jada i'm just embarrassed for John Cusack, cheesy & hit every awful cliche, hated it 1 stars
8/04/05 ron abrams yawn. what a waste. 2 stars
7/30/05 Bonnie Roberts I wouldn't see it twice 2 stars
7/29/05 Naka Ungh. No. 2 stars
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  29-Jul-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 20-Dec-2005



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