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Must Love Dogs

Like all-stars trotting out for a mid-summer exhibition game, Diane Lane and John Cusack are in acceptable, but not exceptional, form as lovelorn single people who meet, set up wobbly second dates, and nearly blow it with each other. What sets this apart from the other romantic comedies in recent years is that in this one, you see, they meet on the Internet.


Sarah (Diane Lane) is a just-divorced pre-school teacher whom seemingly everyone in the world wants to set up on a date, much to her chagrin. She insists on staying out of the horrid dating scene, until her meddlesome sister (Elizabeth Perkins) takes it upon herself to put a listing on a matchmaking Web site, under the canine-friendly heading sharing the movie's title. Cusack's Jake, a morose boat builder who's also goaded by a well-meaning but shrewish friend, replies. After an initial rendezvous, and a couple of dates, everything is going swimmingly, until-in what gently passes for a complication- another man steps into her life: Bobby (Dermot Mulroney), an athletic single father of one of her young students and straight-up nice guy. For just a while there, it's hard to tell which suitor she'll end up with…unless you've seen these kinds of movies before: Man and woman meet in a cute way, spend time together while insisting they're in love with different people (whom only we can see are bad for them) only to come to their senses at the last minute and race across town to stop the other from getting on a train. But quite simply, it works, often like a charm.


In a movie that seems patently crafted not to offend, it's the stars who save the day, but Diane Lane and John Cusack are coasting through this one; they hardly turn in noteworthy performances. Lane has fire, for sure--Unfaithful is the obvious example, and everyone remembers Cusack suffering heartache to the point of hoisting a boom box over his head in Say Anything. Neither has much to work with. In what is apparently a robust trend among movies these days, another set of older actors are given their due by playing the parents--in this case, it's Christopher Plummer as Lane's swinging bachelor father, and his main squeeze, played by Stockard Channing. While neither as sharp as Bewitcheds' Michael Caine and Shirley MaClaine, nor as funny as Meet the Fockers' Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand (all of whom, to be fair, were in bigger, broader comedies) they fill out the screen nicely. Perkins fits the role of the jaded, diffuse older sister better than she might like to.


Romantic comedies are not often known for the direction, although some are known for their directors. TV fans may remember Gary David Goldberg as the creator of Family Ties (or at least they'll remember his voice from the close of every show, ''Sit Ubu, sit. Good Dog.'') Like Ephron and Garry Marshall, he's a pro. Not a scene nor a rhythm is out of place, nothing sticks out like a sore thumb, the pace is neither too fast nor too slow. It doesn't ask questions that it can't answer. But what about the questions it doesn't ask? Maybe this movie could use a few threads sticking out, a few rings on the coffee table. Maybe it needed a ratings makeover. At PG-13, it's squeaky clean, except for one extended and funny scene about condoms. But here's the rub - teenagers aren't going anywhere near this picture anyway - they're across the multiplex, trying to sneak into Wedding Crashers.

Bottom Line

If you're looking to spend a pleasant evening with two familiar faces who couldn't be more agreeable, Must Love Dogs is the perfect match. But if you're looking to quicken your pulse watching two grownups grappling with love's highs and lows, you may want to widen your search parameters.