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Must Love Dogs

Sometimes it seems that, ever since he captured a generation of teenage girls' hearts in Say Anything, John Cusack has been trying to turn every romantic lead he plays into the second coming of Lloyd Dobler. Unfortunately, in the absence of a Cameron Crowe script to provide those characters with memorable, meaningful lines (really, what can ever live up to "I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen"?), many of Lloyd/John's mannerisms don't always charm they way they used to. In Must Love Dogs (2005), for example, Cusack plays heartbroken boat-builder Jake as a twitchy, yammering ball of intensity; we know he's a worthy romantic hero because Dr. Zhivago is his favorite movie and he says things like "I think your heart grows back bigger [after a breakup]," but it's never really evident why Diane Lane's lovelorn preschool teacher Sarah gives him a second chance after he freaks her out with his non-stop, unfiltered chatter on their first date. Of course, logic isn't exactly a central plot device in most Hollywood romantic comedies (if it were, the characters might actually talk when they had their big misunderstandings, and there'd be no second act), and Must Love Dogs, as unobjectionable as it is unexciting, is no exception to the rule. The story is simple: Both Jake and Sarah are getting over bad breakups, and their family (in Sarah's case) and friends (in Jake's) want to see them happy again, so each unwillingly winds up with a profile on perfectmatch.com. They meet, somehow get past the aforementioned awkward first date, and have a much better second one — voila, happiness! But, as the course of true love never did run smooth, obstacles must be thrown in Jake and Sarah's path — most notably in the form of Bob (Dermot Mulroney), the handsome father of one of Sarah's students. Of course, since Lane's and Cusack's names — not Mulroney's — are the ones on the poster, the movie's ending is never really in doubt … if only getting there was a bit more interesting. Cusack, twitchy and yammering as he may be in real life as well as on celluloid, is capable of more, and Lane's talents are practically wasted (for proof, just watch her act out the dramatic consequences of a relationship gone awry in Unfaithful) — though her hair really gets to stretch, changing from sleek to curly to wavy and back within the blink of a montage. The supporting cast offers a few bright spots, including Elizabeth Perkins as Sarah's bossy sister and Christopher Plummer as Sarah's twinkle-eyed father (whose own adventures in the world of online dating might have made for a funnier movie). But ultimately it's hard to really get invested in the picture; it's clear from the outset where the story is going, and the stars don't have enough chemistry to surmount that lack of suspense. Luckily, the world of movie-watching is a lot like Internet dating — if you're not that into the one you're with, there's always another one waiting in the wings. Warner Home Video brings Must Love Dogs to DVD in a clear anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English and French) and English, French, and Spanish subtitles. Extras include four deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Gary David Goldberg (the one between Sarah and her dad is actually quite sweet), a brief gag reel, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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