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Must Love Dogs

Movies | There's nothing remotely admirable about the relationship of the lead characters in this typical romantic comedy

Issue: "Superheroes strike again," Aug. 6, 2005

You've seen all of this before. But perhaps it's been a while since you've seen it all strung together so ineptly. That's about the sum of Must Love Dogs (rated PG-13 for sexual content), a romantic comedy that survives, if at all, solely on the charm of its performers.

Diane Lane plays Sarah, a recently divorced elementary-school teacher. The movie opens with an "intervention" in Sarah's kitchen. Her family has assembled to push and prod her back into romantic pursuits. Sarah's sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) takes the most meddlesome approach, signing Sarah up for an online dating service. The title of the movie refers to a line in Sarah's personal profile, which leads to her first interaction with a quirky wooden boat builder (romantic leads always need a hopelessly impractical profession) named Jake (John Cusack).

Lots of familiar situations surround Jake and Sarah's romance, including the initially-charming-competition-who-turns-out-to-be-a-cad and the gay best friend, who naturally provides the movie's one portrait of domestic bliss. The odd thing about it all is that what should be at least an experience comfortable in its predictability feels so disjointed. Although only a single screenwriter is credited (the director), one would almost expect to discover that a dozen or more participated, each asked to contribute a single scene utilizing the same cast of vaguely defined characters.

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Romantic comedies always involve a certain amount of escapism and wish-fulfillment, but if there's anything remotely admirable about Jake and Sarah's relationship (which includes several foiled attempts at premarital sex), then this reviewer missed it.

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