Must Love Dogs

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Diane Lane has a knack for adding sparkle to bland romances, and making unfunny movies a little more enjoyable. Her sweetness is deceptively comforting. But just like in the lackluster Under the Tuscan Sun, the portrayal of love after divorce in Must Love Dogs is high-glossed and hollow comedy that’s more worthy of a sitcom than the big screen.

Lane and John Cusack play Sarah and Jake, a couple of divorcees egged on by friends and family to rejoin the dating scene. They meet online, and despite major personality conflicts, they wind up falling for each other.

The foibles of online dating are the big gag here, and the dating Web site perfectmatch.com is so shamefully placed throughout the movie that it should get a supporting mention in the credits. Hollywood seems to think the Internet is a comedy goldmine, but save for Jason Biggs’ Web-cast striptease in American Pie, none of it has actually been funny. As for the romance, there’s hardly much of it. Lane’s Sarah and her pooch canoodle more than she does with any of her character’s love interests. That’s unfortunate, because it would have been fun to see more of Lane and Cusack on screen together.

Generally the dour one, Cusack is back in black as Jake (has the guy had a wardrobe change since High Fidelity?), complete with his quirky motor-mouthed tirades and sad-little-puppy eyes. As he shows us again in this movie, he can do surly and understated so well it’s a wonder there’s a romantic bone in his body, but that’s always been his appeal: He’s sneakily sentimental.

Lane’s Sarah is naïve, wounded and somehow hopeful, yet, given Cusack’s considerable charm, her pairing with the Doctor Zhivago-obsessed, brooding, eccentric Jake seems believable.

Lane and Cusack are such great actors — and supported by the likes of Stockard Channing, Christopher Plummer, Dermot Mulroney and the wonderful Elizabeth Perkins — they manage a handful of truly funny scenes in this otherwise stale story. At one point, Sarah and Jake find themselves about to proverbially jump out of a plane without a parachute. Lane and Cusack bring hilarious desperation to the ensuing crosstown hunt for an open drug store with an available box of condoms, dragging us through the hormonal highs and buzz-killed lows of the ordeal.

However, there are too many moments of canned comedy fit for primetime TV, like soggy leftovers from director Gary David Goldberg’s Family Ties days.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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