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A must-love cast elevates ‘Must Love Dogs’

Howie Nave
John Cusack and Diane Lane star in "Must Love Dogs."
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Most anything starring John Cusack is worth a look-see. Maybe it’s because those offbeat characters he plays, or that droll delivery that only he can provide, make us want to see what he will do next.

Throw in a supporting cast that includes sultry veterans Diane Lane and Stockard Channing, and you have an even more pleasurable viewing experience. A movie with a cast that also includes Elizabeth Perkins, Dermot Mulroney and Christopher Plummer means that, even with a so-so script, you know they can pull off an exceptional performance.

Several movies have already covered the subject matter of Internet dating (“You’ve Got Mail,” “Perfect Man”) and the pitfalls that come with communicating over such a medium. In this case, “Must Love Dogs” has several plotlines paralleling one another, which opens up the characters’ situations between their individual stories and those of the other characters whom they interact with.

Directed and written by David Goldberg (from a book authored by Claire Cook), “Must Love Dogs” benefits from Goldberg’s past experience writing for such TV classics as “MASH” and “Lou Grant.” He knows how to write for characters, but can he direct? He can.

Starring Cusack as hopeless romantic (could he be anything but?) Jake, he bungles just about everything upon his first encounter with Sarah (Lane), a divorced teacher whose family apparently can’t stay out of her life, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Oh, sure, she has opportunities (single fathers out there, as she is a teacher of the younger set), but like many women who have complained about dating here in Lake Tahoe, sometimes you have to bring the masses to the mountain.

What I find very amusing about this movie (and other Internet dating movies) is that it’s usually a family member who sets up the unwilling participant to find a soul mate via the Internet. Does this mean that all those profiles I am reading are not, in fact, the person whose pic appears on the ad? Oh, no. The situations that arise around her misplaced ad are pretty hysterical. One can read whatever one wants into these ads, and even though they ask for certain requirements such as “body type,” let’s just say that whatever one thinks their body type is like, the person meeting you for the first time might have a different definition altogether. You would think that when your very own sister (in this case Carol, played by Elizabeth Perkins) is placing the personal ad, at the very least she would know what her body type is, right? Perkins’ character was a little annoying, and there were moments I wanted her to take a Valium (OK, a Prozac) so I could enjoy the rest of the picture without her interference.

The message around the movie is apparent (but light at least, as this is a comedy), and the film is also a commentary on the changing and alternative means by which one tries to hook up with someone of similar interests nowadays. It’s also refreshing to see the Internet dating scene with grown-ups, as opposed to teens who were raised on the Internet dating scene, whereas older folks who have long given up on the bar scene are willing to try this new mode of communication to see if somebody out there is their match. I mean, who would ever have thought that one of the requirements would have been a dating-radius preference? “I like you, but you’re five miles farther away than what I had requested. Next!”

Prospects can be very specific or vague. In this case, Carol believes her sister to be voluptuous, and of course, must love dogs. On top of that there’s their father, Bill, played by Christopher Plummer, giving one of his funniest performances ever, and with an Irish accent, no less. He, too, is into the dating-online trip, and some of his prospects hit close to home.

Also up to the task of being poignant and humorous is Stockard Channing. In short, it’s nice to see a film with adult themes that are not in need of any special effects to hold one’s interest. Stories that most can relate to in some form or another are usually the ones that pique my interest early.

Parts of the movie seemed a little too well designed for its own good, borrowing from other movies for its supporting cast. I mean, every single woman out there must have at least one gay friend she can confide in, right? Visions of “My Best Friend’s Wedding” popped into mind – single women hoping to find love, seeking advice from the closest thing to having a girlfriend. Other than that, log on and enjoy a very entertaining movie until you get booted off.

– Howie Nave is the host/emcee/manager of The Improv at Harveys Tuesday through Sunday nights. You can hear him on seven radio stations every Friday morning reviewing movies in northern California and Nevada, including KRLT in Lake Tahoe and KOZZ out of Reno. Watch him every Saturday and Sunday on Tahoe’s KMTN TV doing movie and video reviews.

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