Harry Potter!
Cinema Signal:
Must Love Dogs
by Claire Cook

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. "Must Love Dogs"

Again, Diane Lane is cast as a woman who can't get a man (see the even more annoying "Under the Tuscan Sun"). This is like casting Arnold Schwarzenegger as a guy who can't lift a check book. Or Faith Hill singing like Miss Piggy. It's a concept that doesn't click and won't compute. It's not just casting against type--it's casting that defeats its own premise. But, okay, anything for an excuse to put Ms. Lane back before the cameras with a few laugh lines.

Fortunately, some of the lines work and, for some panting hearts out there you could call it amusing. But the premise doesn't lift off into anything very meaningful for the demanding among us when one of its more interesting attributes is Lane's changes of wardrobe when she's out on her string of dates. But why is she so misdirected into the arms and beds of two men almost simultaneouosly?

The key to this movie about a gorgeous woman who is in a state of shock over being left by her husband is that, at its heart and in its essence, it's one big product placement for an existing commercial dating service on the internet. Their URL is only mentioned (if not announced) clearly two, possibly three times in the infomercial, er... the movie, so I don't feel the need to repeat the plug here (until and unless they send a check).

It must be said that Christopher Plummer (as dad) does a fairly perfect reading of a poem in what may be the most genuine moment of the film, but the fact that it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie may make it unappreciated. The soundtrack is another thing of beauty with songs by Linda Ronstadt, Sheryl Crow and Natalie Cole the standouts. But that's about where praise must end. Sarah's (Lane) heartwarmingly close family relationships are overcooked enough to make one hunger for an ascetic bachelor dinner. Which is the way this woman should have--but will never--wind up.

As for the love of dogs, it's more convincing in the Japanese anime' movie "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" than anything on display here, where the pets are mostly used as props to justify the title.

The ploy to cast an actress with natural warmth and honesty doesn't work to add those qualities to a part that's so contrived. Gary David Goldberg directed from his adaptation of the Claire Cook novel and 35 pages of dialogue changes from his co-lead, John Cusack. It's my guess the actor improved Goldberg's screenplay, but his on-screen efforts didn't add anything to the movie's struggle for sincerity. It's for hopeless, undemanding romantics, indiscriminate dog lovers and uncritical Lane lovers. (Hmmm... I might just fall in that latter category--she's a pleasure to watch even in something as cooked as this.)

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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It takes a dip in the lake to solidify a relationship

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