THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


If you took every romantic comedy thatís been made in the last ten years and fed them all into a computer, it would spit Must Love Dogs back out at you. This is yet another movie about a gorgeous-but-lonely woman who canít find a decent guy. As with most romantic comedy heroines, her best friend is a sympathetic gay man who gives her dating advice. There is a moment where she and her family members dance around someoneís living room singing a golden oldie. (Families donít do this in real life, but it happens all the time in romantic comedies.) During the course of the film, the female lead meets two guys: one is a complete cad while the other is the nice guy she will eventually end up with. At one point, she pops in for a surprise encounter with the cad, only to find him with another woman. (He does that thing where he cracks the door open and acts nervously while a female voice chirps in the background.) The film even contains that familiar scene where our heroine, having decided to choose the right guy, is forcibly kissed by the wrong guy just as the right guy walks in.

In this case, Diane Lane is Sarah, the canine-loving beauty who is still reeling from a divorce. Her family stages an intervention where they all try to find her a date. Sarah, of course, has a sarcastic sister, Carol (Elizabeth Perkins), who posts her information on an internet dating service. The ad is answered by Jake (John Cusack), a boat builder also reeling from a divorce. Well actually, Jakeís best friend answers the ad and sends Jake on the date with advice to bring a dog. We know that Sarah and Jake are meant to be together because their initial meeting is awkward and embarrassing. But then Sarah meets Bobby (Dermot Mulroney), the handsome father of a student at the preschool where she teaches. Even Bobbyís kid knows that heís a womanizer, but that doesnít stop Sarah from being attracted to him. Suddenly, she canít decide which guy she likes more.

This is one of those movies where the female lead canít decide which guy to be with, even though one of them is clearly the right choice and the other is clearly the wrong choice. The screenplay has the unintentional effect of making Sarah look like a complete imbecile for not being able to see what is plainly obvious. In order to keep chugging ahead, the story has to manufacture ways to keep Sarah and Jake apart. I suppose it would be possible to make a movie about the fact that people (men or women) will sometimes pursue relationships that are not healthy, even when a much better option is also available. Must Love Dogs is not that movie, though. Itís all sit-com level material, when we expect a motion picture to go more in depth. Bobby is little more than a fabricated diversion to keep Sarah and Jake apart until the end.

(Iím going to assume here that there are no readers who couldnít have figured out which man Sarah ultimately chooses; it was obvious even from the filmís preview.)

The only thing Must Love Dogs has going for it is a likeable cast, which keeps the movie from being outright awful. Diane Lane and John Cusack are terrific actors, even if theyíre playing characters very similar to ones theyíve played in the past. (The film might as well have been called Say Anything Under the Tuscan Sun). Christopher Plummer scores a few nice moments as Sarahís father, who also does the computer dating scene and ends up with three women, including Stockard Channing. The dogs are cute too. With a less capable cast, this would have been unbearable to sit through. At least the stars bring some goodwill with them, and that makes it watchable if nothing else.

There really isnít much more to say about the picture. Thereís not an original moment in the whole thing. Everything that happens here has happened in dozens of romantic comedies before. In fact, if youíre thinking of going to see Must Love Dogs, all I can say is: youíve already seen it.

( out of four)

Must Love Dogs is rated PG-13 for sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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