'Must Love Dogs': all bark, no bite
Aug. 3, 2005
Jeffrey K. Lyles
Staff Writer

Warner Bros. Pictures

Sarah Nolan (Diane Lane) is a divorcee trying to get back into the dating game with Jake Anderson (John Cusack) in "Must Love Dogs."

The makers of "Must Love Dogs" clearly have an affection toward canines, but they didn't seem to like the audience very much.

Granted, I'm the exact opposite of the film's target audience, but even I can appreciate a well-made romantic comedy such as "My Boss's Daughter" or "Guess Who." Kidding, just kidding.

Sadly, the jokes aren't any better in "Must Love Dogs," which is disappointing considering its likable lead cast of Diane Lane ("Fierce People"), John Cusack ("Runaway Jury"), Elizabeth Perkins ("The Thing About My Folks") and Dermot Mulroney ("The Wedding Date").

Lane stars as Sarah, a divorcee whose family wants her to get back into the dating game after months of observing from the sidelines.

Sarah isn't sure she's ready to resume dating but humors her family, including her widowed father Bill (Christopher Plummer, "Our Fathers"), who himself has decided to resume dating.

Director Gary David Goldberg adapted the script from Claire Cook's novel of the same name; and while I haven't read it, I get the feeling that the old adage that the book is always better than the movie is once again accurate.

While unsure about dating, Sarah finds it hard to resist her attraction to Bob (Mulroney), the divorced father of one of her pre-kindergarten students. Meanwhile, Sarah's sister Carol (Perkins) establishes an online dating profile for Sarah so she can meet more guys.

It's interesting that Carol doesn't seem enthralled with her own marriage, yet for some reason she wants to see her sister in a relationship. Maybe misery loves company?

After dating a swarm of losers--who are paraded through a painfully long and unfunny segment--Sarah meets Jake (Cusack), a divorced man who is instantly smitten with her.

Cusack's Jake is just like his other quirky and romantically troubled characters as seen in "Grosse Point Blank," "America's Sweethearts" and "Serendipity." Cusack is a fine actor, but after watching him play the same role over and over again with a few new quirks, his romantic comedy shtick is starting to wear thin.

Jake's biggest quirk is that he loves watching "Doctor Zhivago," which becomes the film's running gag as the audience never knows when he'll be watching it. (Having movie characters watching movies is not a wise move, especially when the character's movie is better than the one the audience is viewing.)

The characters in "Must Love Dogs" feel pigeonholed into their personalities, never getting a chance to show other sides of themselves. This is especially troublesome with Jake, who is so neurotic that he hardly seems an ideal mate for the well-adjusted Sarah.

Of all the characters, the most interesting is Bill, who appears to be the only one who knows what he wants even while he's bringing three Internet dates at a time to various family functions. He explains to Sarah in one of the few genuinely poignant moments that he's already loved the love of his life and he's just having a good time with his three dates now.

Plummer provides a touch of class and suaveness to the film--and without really trying, he steals every scene he's in.

Will Sarah realize Jake is perfect for her? Will Jake stop watching "Doctor Zhivago"? Will you survive this 98-minute ordeal to the predictable finish?

Sadly, in a vain attempt to sucker hopeless romantics into packing theaters with people who have one hand clutching their significant other's arm the other dabbing their eyes with a tissue, Warner Bros. showed most of the best scenes in the trailers. But I suppose it's just as well considering the quality of the aforementioned "best scenes."

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see "Doctor Zhivago" with my Golden Retriever.