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“Somebody do something,” the dog pleaded: Cusack and Lane in Must Love Dogs.

Love Is Bland
By Laura Leon

Must Love Dogs

Directed by Gary David Goldberg

It’s hard to imagine a ro -man tic comedy that isn’t a) at all romantic or b) remotely funny, but such is the case with Must Love Dogs. Diane Lane plays Sarah, yet another jilted woman of a certain age, unsure of her own attractiveness and nervously awaiting Mr. Right to make it all better. Sarah is a preschool teacher, working at one of those wonderful-looking nursery schools in which all the kids dress well, have clean noses and committed parents, and where budgetary constrictions are as remote as, well, grumpy teachers. She also has a big family and doesn’t mind taking care of one of her sibling’s big dogs, whose moniker, Mother Teresa, is meant to get big laughs. It doesn’t.

Sarah’s sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) enrolls her lonely sib in an online dating service, which ushers in the montage of really bad dates, including an awkward first meet with Jake (John Cusack), a guy whose niceness credentials are cemented—besides the fact that he’s played by John Cusack—by his love of real wood boats and his obsession for the classic love story Dr. Zhivago. Unfortunately for all involved—namely the audience—Lane and Cusack share about as much chemistry as I do with a former roommate who tried to kill me. Director Gary David Goldberg tortures his subjects with an elongated plotline revolving around the question of whether Sarah and Jake will get their respective acts together enough to realize that, at least according to the script, it’s love.

Why the movie is called Must Love Dogs is beyond me, as neither Sarah nor Jake own a critter of their own, nor do canines play any real role in the story. The same can be said for Sarah’s large Irish family. Clearly, they’re here to represent stereotypical normalcy, clannishness, and some sort of native wit and wisdom, but half of the siblings are nameless bodies at the dining-room table, and as for the latter, poor Christopher Plummer, as Sarah’s dad, can try all he wants to utter inanities like “your sainted mother” and “my lovely daughter” in a motley brogue, but both his performance and his role are still wasted.

Years ago, I reviewed an awful romantic comedy called He Said She Said, whose only saving grace was a movie-stealing bit part played by Sharon Stone. Similarly, Must Love Dogs’ bright shining moments come from Jordana Spiro as a happily clueless nymphet. It’s a dumb-blonde role, to be sure, but her character’s analysis of the film Dr. Zhivago is riotously funny, perhaps made more so by the utterly humorless morass of script she’s found herself in, but at least it saves viewers the fate of feeling they’ve completely wasted their time and money.

Easy to See This Sucks

Stealth

Directed by Rob Cohen

Stealth is about “the future of digital warfare” in the form of a fighter jet commanded by artificial intelligence instead of a live pilot. Called EDI, the computerized “wing man” goes bonkers and tries to blow up Russia. Sloppily directed by Rob Cohen, of The Fast and the Furious fame, the film is wrong on so many levels that the spectacular aerial photography—a jet gracefully rolls over its two companions while in supersonic flight, another jet plummets to earth from the outer limit of the atmosphere—barely cuts through the nonsense. The script is all over the place, the booming soundtrack is intolerable, and almost every conversation is a silly pastiche of snappy-sounding jargon (what used to be called a battle is now an “advanced war vector scenario”). And how’s this for hackneyed? The stealth bomber develops an evolved intellect after getting zapped by lightning. It then turns on its Navy teammates, three toothy top guns played by Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx (totally wasted in this part).

Stealth is studded with intrusively commercialized shots; early on, the three pilots are shown ambling along the tarmac in slow motion, smiles plastered upon their faces as if they had just returned from a ménage a trois in Tahiti rather than a training exercise in counterterrorism. Yet all three earn our pity for having to engage their acting skills with a flying R2D2. Anyone still paying attention after Biel’s flyer gets stranded in North Korea, Lucas’ squadron leader is ambushed in Alaska, and EDI waxes philosophical with his HAL-like voice, may find the movie’s ambivalence toward war to be kind of unnerving. With gazillions of dollars spent on mind-bogglingly sophisticated equipment that is deployed with only a confused and rudimentary understanding of the purpose, Stealth’s unintended realism is the edgiest thing in it.

—Ann Morrow


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