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Review: 'Must Love Dogs'? No

Romantic comedy is a waste of talent

By Paul Clinton

Must Love Dogs
Diane Lane and John Cusack in "Must Love Dogs."


John Cusack
Diane Lane

(CNN) -- My reaction to the new romantic comedy "Must Love Dogs" is simple: No, I don't.

Not dogs, the animal. "Dogs," the movie. Indeed, calling it a dog is an insult to canines.

Despite the talented actors involved -- Diane Lane, John Cusack, Christopher Plummer and Dermot Mulroney among them -- this film never rises above the level of a half-baked situation comedy.

The basic premise deals with the perils of Internet dating. Lane plays Sarah Nolan, a schoolteacher who has been divorced for eight months when her family forces her back into the shark-filled waters of the dating game.

Unbeknownst to Sarah, her two busybody sisters -- Carol (a very perky Elizabeth Perkins) and Christine (Ali "why am I in this movie, I have no part" Hillis) -- have a plan. They post her profile on an Internet dating service with the following message: "Voluptuous, sensuous, alluring and fun. DWF seeks special man to share starlit nights. Must love dogs."

What follows is painfully predictable. There are endless vignettes involving the total losers Sarah encounters online. Every date is a walking cliche. The only interesting aspect of these scenes is Lane's ever-changing hairstyle.

Meanwhile, Sarah's dapper widowed father (Plummer) has become an aging lothario dating a bevy of desperate women he's met online. His main squeeze ends up being hippy-dippy Dolly (Stockard Channing), who apparently gets her make-up tips from Tammy Faye Bakker Messner.

Sure, there are complications. At one point Sarah actually meets her own father for a date arranged through an online setup. That's rather creepy, especially for this movie.

Film by numbers

During her quest through dating hell, Sarah becomes attracted to the recently divorced father of one of her students, Bob Conner, played by Mulroney. With his floppy hair and crooked grin he seems to be too good to be true. Given the lack of creativity in "Must Love Dogs," that's exactly what he is.

Must Love Dogs
Lane's character is put back into the dating scene by her sisters, played by Elizabeth Perkins (center) and Ali Hillis (right).

Finally Cusack appears as an idealistic, romantic boat builder named Jake Anderson, who has an almost unnatural attraction to the film "Dr. Zhivago." (Get it? He's sensitive.) Of course, Sarah and Jake arrange to meet in a dog park, and -- of course -- the relationship gets off to a very shaky start.

Soon, however, Jake begins to grow on her and she must decide between the handsome Conner and the slightly off-key, but appealing, Anderson.

Written and directed by Gary David Goldberg (based on a book by Claire Cook), "Must Love Dogs" is amazingly trite and shallow. Goldberg is best known for his TV sitcom work, especially the highly successful "Family Ties." With this film, his roots are showing. Every joke is telegraphed and every plot point is banged in with a sledgehammer.

The picture-perfect town the film is set in makes Disneyland look like a slum. It's all so cute you'll want to grind your teeth.

"Must Love Dogs" isn't really a film. It's a series of postcard moments interspersed with some lame comedic moments. You can almost hear a laugh track in the background -- but even a laugh track would strain to find "Must Love Dogs" entertaining.

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