Case Number 08297: Small Claims Court


Warner Bros. // 2005 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // January 10th, 2006

The Charge

A comedy for the dog lover in all of us.

The Case

Brokenhearted Sarah (Diane Lane, Unfaithful) is a recently divorced forty-something schoolteacher who thinks love has passed her by. Jake (John Cusack, Cradle Will Rock) is also a recent divorcé whose beautiful wood boats he builds mask the pain of his shattered heart. When Sarah's good-hearted but meddling family -- led by her sister (Elizabeth Perkins, Big) -- throw up a personal ad for Sarah on a popular dating Internet site, Sarah finds herself with many choices and possibilities. The same happens for Jake, and soon the two meet in a park where -- voila! -- sparks begin to fly. But before Jake and Sarah can live happily ever after they'll have to jump through a few standard romantic comedy hoops, including another possible mate for Sarah (Dermot Mulroney, The Family Stone), nosey family members (including Sarah's irascible father played by Christopher Plummer, Dolores Claiborne), and really bad timing on both of their parts. But don't fret -- this is Hollywood, and in the end only one thing will prevail: true love!

Ah, love. Amore. It is the one emotion we all love to feel. I've never met anyone who has ever said, "ewww, I'm in love," as if they'd just stepped in a steaming pile of dog poop. Everyone -- even Hitler, I'm sure -- has felt L-O-V-E at some point in their lives. It is an emotion that makes us want to spin around in circles and fall to the ground with the one we love, rolling in fresh grass and smooching and snuggling and caressing and hugging and, well, you get the picture.

Which brings me Hollywood romances. Since the advent of film, Hollywood has been trying to bring perfect love stories to the big screen. Movies where people meet, fall in love (sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously), stumble into some predicament that keeps them apart, then fall back into each others arms as the sun sets, the music swells and the credits roll. Will it surprise you to know that at the end of Must Love Dogs John Cusack and Diane Lane end up together in each other's embrace? If so, there is something seriously wrong with you.

Must Love Dogs is a very typical Hollywood romantic comedy that churns off the assembly line with such precision I'm shocked the words "made in Japan" aren't rolling across the screen every moment. The movie is a checklist of all the needed clichés for a properly put together movie. There is the typical meeting between the future lovers where they don't really get along, the moment when one of the hopeful lovers catches another in a previous lover's arms, the meddling family whose only purpose is to embarrass the main characters, the ringing moment of clarity that they love each other, and so on and so forth. If Must Love Dogs were a cooking recipe it would be featured on the back of ever single solitary Pillsbury baking product box -- it's that familiar.

Must Love Dogs succeeds (mostly) due to the chemistry and connection of its two leads. John Cusack and Diane Lane -- working the best they can with usually sub par material -- shine as older single folks just looking for love in all the wrong places, mainly the Internet. Cusack switches on autopilot and turns in a standard if entertaining John Cusack performance as Jake (quirky, charming, funny) and Diane Lane plays the wounded Sarah to a tee (though I find it hard that anyone of her stature has a hard time nailing down a possible suitor). A few of the secondary characters are amusing including Plummer as Sarah's classy, endearing father and Perkins as Sarah's bitter, funny sister, but this is really Cusack and Lane's show.

The plot to Must Love Dogs isn't much to sneeze at -- this is really the same story retold with a lot of Internet twists. Remember back when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan made it okay to find love on the 'net in You've Got Mail? Those days are long gone, replaced by an acceptance that electronic dating is the "in" thing. In Must Love Dogs, seemingly everyone has an internet dating profile, and apparently they're all dating more than you, myself, or the entire state of Idaho rolled into one.

There are a few funny one-liners in the film (mostly supplied by Perkins) and the whole thing is an innocuous, mostly painless affair. You could do much worse than a romantic comedy like Must Love Dogs. After it was finished I recalled thinking that it was passable enough, but saw little to recommend to my friends. Much like most of my real-life first dates.

Must Love Dogs is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film's original aspect ratio. The image on this disc is uniformly excellent -- the colors and black levels are all well rendered without any major imperfections in the picture. Warner has done a great job with this transfer.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. This 5.1 track is nice, but not great -- Must Love Dogs is a very dialogue based romantic comedy, so there isn't a lot here in the way of surround sounds or directional effects (save for a few pop songs and some ambient background noises). Also included on this disc are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Only a small handful of extra features have been included on this disc. There are a few additional scenes with optional commentary (none of them are worth watching), a gag reel that includes only two flubs (and both are from the same scene), and a theatrical trailer for the film.

Review content copyright © 2006 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 77

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)

* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* Deleted Scenes With Optional Commentary
* Pass The Beef Gag Reel
* Theatrical Trailer

* IMDb

* Official Site