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Date Movie 101 

Diane Lane. John Cusack. Internet dating and dog parks. Can you say 'clichéd romantic comedy'?

Putting Diane Lane and John Cusack together in a movie seems like a good idea. There are moments of undeniable charm and good humor in Must Love Dogs despite a dated premise (Internet dating) and a by-the-numbers romantic comedy script. Deciding on whether or not to recommend it was a tough call.

In the end, I couldn't give props to a film that features a family sing-along to the Partridge Family's "Come on Get Happy!" I just couldn't do it. The David Cassidy factor was one of the things that did me in. Sure, this can be perceived as shallow, but take it from me: This particular sing-along scene is a lethal movie killer. It's just so very wrong.

Lane plays the beautiful yet worn Sarah, recently divorced and contemplating that hellish endeavor of re-entering the dating world. Her nosy sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) posts an Internet personal on Sarah's behalf using her high school graduation picture, and the coyotes start howling and pissing at her door. One of the respondents is Jake, a role occupied by John Cusack essentially playing his trench coat-wearing Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything all grown up. Jake builds wooden boats that nobody wants to buy and deals with his recent divorce in a grumpy yet whimsical way that is very Cusack.

The two meet in a dog park (which, in my opinion, is a direct rip-off of the Bruce McCulloch film Dog Park), and their first date doesn't go so well. Jake rambles on about the dishonesty of Sarah's ad ("voluptuous?"), and the two go their separate ways. Sarah gives other ad respondents a try, paving the way for a dating montage featuring Crying Guy, Bring Your Child on the Date Guy, Impossibly Rude Guy, etc. Being that Lane and Cusack are the ones plastered on the movie poster, we pretty much know they will meet again.

Sarah is a preschool teacher, and one of her pupil's fathers is hackneyed romantic-comedy mainstay Dermot Mulroney as Bob (Seemingly Sensitive Dad Guy). Occupying a place in the film simply to delay the inevitable Lane-Cusack victory, Bob is just a time killer possessing no chance for survival with Sarah. John Cusack must prevail, so Bob will inevitably screw up.

The film has a couple of very funny sequences. A late-night frantic search for condoms is probably the movie's high point and is surprisingly well-written and played by the stars. Lane does a good job with her droll reactions to the dating nightmares, and Cusack makes the most of his routine part, throwing in the occasional Cusack zinger.

Christopher Plummer, as Sarah's sensitive dad, is required to do some rather ridiculous things with multiple girlfriends (including Stockard Channing), but he handles the role with grace. Unfortunately, he doesn't grab his acoustic and deliver a sensitive rendition of "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music during the family sing-along scene. That would've rocked!

The whole premise of Internet dating feels old and played out, a tired gimmick to build a movie around. Throw in the whole dog-park thing, and you have a double cliché offense. As far as Internet-dating movies go, this one is much better than the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan vomit train You've Got Mail, but pales in comparison to the Sandra Bullock-Brendan Fraser laugh riot Internet Dates Are Go! Actually, that movie doesn't exist, but it seems like a possibility, doesn't it?

This film is what it is: a standard date movie designed to contend with this summer's machismo blockbusters. Cusack hasn't done this sort of thing since 2001, so he was due, and Lane is just capitalizing on her Under the Tuscan Sun momentum. The movie has a sweet heart but a rather dumb head. Must Love Dogs won't kill anybody, but it might maim a few, especially during the Partridge Family homage. You might want to cover up the ears during that one.

Must Love Dogs
Rated NR

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