Writer-director Paul Weitz ("About a Boy", "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps")
turns his attentions to a comedy about corporate downsizing that is so light
it floats toward empty-headedness. Anyone who can ignore the lack of
substance will be rewarded by a different approach to job gain and loss as
well as one of Dennis Quaid's best outings in years.
He plays Dan Foreman, the guy in the head office of Sports America magazine's
advertising department who runs it with kind understanding. As a saleman
himself, he is a master of the soft sell. At the advanced age of 51,
however, and with the magazine's parent company taken over by the
conglomerate GlobeCom, things are about to change.
First comes 26-year old brown-noser Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), a bundle of
ambition, naivete and empty energy who has dropped down from the cloudy
environs of the executive offices to run things with a steelier grip
on the hard decisions. To his credit, he recognizes Dan's superior
knowledge and experience, so evicts him to a lesser office and keeps him on
as his "wing man" while handing pink slips all around. One way or the other,
their destinies are going to be interwoven.
Insecurity affects Dan's solid home life. His wife Ann (a delightful Marg
Helgenberger) becomes pregnant and, when his eldest daughter Alex (Scarlett
Johansson) enrolls at NYU, Dan has to take out a second mortgage to make ends
meet. Carter's home, by contrast, is modern minimalism while his life
is nil going on disaster when his frosty wife Kimberly (Selma Blair) takes
off and sues for divorce.
One of the twists here is that the robotic executive at least has the
sensibility to envy Dan's personal life. He's in awe of his love-filled
family life and, when he thrusts himself into a family dinner and meets Alex,
actually sparks her interest. A relationship throws everyone's values into
a mix of superficially contrived adjustments.
The relationship between the men, a workaholic shell searching for meaning
and his role-model employee with soul and understanding has the feeling of
anything for a wry laugh rather than deeply felt fear of consequence. Topher
Grace has an off-putting quality that works for the film, although I had the
feeling that the film had to work hard to accomodate his awkward delivery.
Johansson is winsome intelligence in a role that adds to her continually
growing luster and rising heat. See her Southern turn in "A Love Song for Bobby
The chemistry between Quaid and Helgenberger as husband and wife and between
Quaid and Johansson as father and daughter is as good as you'll find these
days. These fine actors are the reason to witness this late year release.
Quaid's performance may not rise to award consideration, as his studio may
wish, but he is finely back on the track where his greatest strengths lie.
~~ Jules Brenner