For decades, those who've been unable to find mates the traditional way have resorted to placing what are known as personal ads. Those are the small blurbs in the back of newspapers and magazines filled with mysterious acronyms that only those in the dating world seem to understand.
With the advent of the Internet, many such advertisements have moved to the online world where they've also morphed into other forms seen in a number of films of fairly recent including the 1998 romantic comedy, "You've Got Mail." Author Claire Cook wrote a somewhat similar tale in 2002 that also focused on such personal ads and the humorous complexities of such blind dates. Despite that feeling somewhat old hat nowadays, it's now been turned into the romantic comedy of the same name, "Must Love Dogs."
Speaking of aged and canines, there's the old axiom about not being able to teach old dogs new tricks. In terms of the movies, romantic comedies have become the equivalent of senior pooches, and this film proves that the no new tricks adage applies to such films as well. Working from his own screenplay adaptation of Cook's work, director Gary David Goldberg ("Dad," writer/creator of many TV shows) proves he hasn't met a romantic comedy cliché that he couldn't resist putting in this film.
Overflowing with about every convention and element typically present in such offerings, the film will likely please fans of the genre who don't or won't mind the repetitiveness and manipulative touch that most every romantic comedy seems obligated to include.
There are the trials and tribulations as well as ups and downs of the main romance; best friend type characters who are quick to dispense dating and relationship advice; cute animals; moments of supposed profundity to temper the comedy and otherwise lighter moments; old classic movies on TV and/or in the theater; and, of course, the musical montages.
Yes, all of that and more - including a sing-along moment, this time of Partridge Family vintage -- is present, with much of it seeming old and worn in context from repeated use in too many similar feeling films. In execution, however, it comes off a tad fresher, although not enough to declare this a new breed of romantic comedy. Goldberg and company might not have taught the genre any new tricks, but they've bathed this pooch, trimmed its coat and given it enough of a breath mint that at least some viewers will be wagging their tales (sorry, had to keep with the dog analogies) in appreciation.
Beyond Goldberg's occasionally witty and sometimes rather funny dialogue and situations such as a blind date with an amusingly unexpected twist, most of that can be attributed to the cast and what they bring to their role. No strangers to the genre, Diane Lane ("Under the Tuscan Sun," "Unfaithful") and John Cusack ("Serendipity," "America's Sweethearts") have no problem strolling through their familiar parts, each playing up their defining characteristic. While their chemistry together might not produce onscreen fireworks, it certainly generates enough sparks to keep most viewers engaged.
Supporting performances from the likes of Dermot Mulroney ("The Wedding Date," "My Best Friend's Wedding"), Elizabeth Perkins ("The Ring Two," "Crazy in Alabama"), Stockard Channing ("Anything Else," "Le Divorce") and especially Christopher Plummer ("Alexander," "Nicholas Nickleby") are solid to strong, although they're the ones most subjected to the faux profundity that gets a little too thick and syrupy at times. And Ben Shenkman ("Roger Dodger," "Requiem for a Dream") is more annoying than amusing as Cusack's lawyer friend who only has one thing on his mind in a repeated bit that gets old rather quickly.
The same holds true for repeated gags about the two watching "Dr. Zhivago" (once was enough for the joke), while the film fails to be as funny as it could and should have been in regards to all of the online dating material (even a surprise date visit isn't as hilarious as it might have once been a few years back).
The montages of related disastrous blind dates are also a bit of a letdown, considering the individual and collective fun that could have been had from the varied assortment of such "loser" characters that Lane's must endure. Finally, the romantic triangle bit between her, Cusack and Mulroney's characters never quite builds into any sort of engaging momentum or develops into the sort of hilarity one might be expecting considering the set-up and subsequent hints of what might occur.
Like an old dog with new fleas, the film is energetic and cute, but also somewhat frustrating and a bit irritating, thus resulting in it being unable to stand out from the rest of the genre pack.