'In Good Company': Fizzling on the Bottom Line

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2005

Dan Foreman sells advertising for a weekly sports magazine. He's 51, makes a decent salary, has a gorgeous wife and two equally attractive daughters, enjoys good relationships at work. He's a nice guy, a good guy, who consistently does the right thing but doesn't make a big deal about it.

Carter Duryea is a 26-year-old upstart who is a shark-in-training at a major multinational conglomerate. Carter also has a gorgeous wife and no kids -- yet. Other than the fact that he seems only dimly aware of concepts like the right thing, let alone how to do it, he seems to be a nice guy, even a good guy. When his company buys Dan's magazine and Carter becomes Dan's boss, the younger man honestly doesn't seem to realize that there might be some attendant issues to discuss other than Dan becoming his "awesome wingman."

The relationship between Dan and Carter, played by Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace respectively, is the real romance at the center of "In Good Company," a comedy written and directed by Paul Weitz ("American Pie," "About a Boy"). Sure, Carter meets and falls in love with Dan's college-aged daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) and complications ensue, but it's Dan and Carter's relationship around which the real action of this dramatic comedy revolves.

As a male May-December story, "In Good Company" is without a doubt refreshing, and as a showcase for a warmly grizzled performance by Quaid, as well as a promising big-movie turn from Grace, it offers its share of bright spots. But such good points aside, "In Good Company" is a bland, occasionally phlegmatic pastiche of cliches and dull encounters. ("I enjoyed talking to you more than anyone in my entire life," one character tells another at a pivotal moment. "Thank you," the other one responds. And . . . scene.)

But first the good news. Like the recent boxing melodrama "Million Dollar Baby," "In Good Company" is the sort of movie one can safely recommend to both the teenagers who love Grace on the sitcom "That '70s Show" and their parents, who are more likely to relate to Quaid and Marg Helgenberger, who plays Dan's wife. Indeed, it's another of the movie's strong points that this middle-aged marriage is one portrayed not as an exercise in quiet desperation but one that is still quite sexy after 20 some-odd years. Carter and his young trophy wife (played by Selma Blair in a bid to become the screen's next Ice Queen on a par with Lara Flynn Boyle) are so vapid that they have a photograph of their own house on their living room wall, but Carter senses that life holds something more. When he maneuvers his way into Dan's house, he finds the warmth and values that were missing in his own upbringing -- as well as a really attractive young woman who shares his awesome-centric vocabulary and possesses hidden intellectual depths. Hooray for Hollywood!

As understandably smitten as Carter is with Alex, it's Dan he's courting throughout "In Good Company," which is largely set in a generic office populated by goofballs and villains straight out of Central Casting. It's difficult to work up a sense that much is at stake when the worst things that happen to these well-intentioned characters are a perfunctory divorce and a second mortgage. Sparks supposedly fly between the two men, such as when the hyper-caffeinated Carter takes Dan to a sushi restaurant. Later on, when Dan finds a reason to sock Carter in the eye, the conflict still doesn't seem all that serious, largely because Carter resembles a grown-up Jerry Mathers more than a budding Jerry Maguire, even when he's spouting managerial gobbledygook like, "We need to synchronize and synergize."

That isn't the moment Dan hauls off and pastes Carter, although by most lights he'd be justified. Indeed, Dan does finally get to deliver a speech on behalf of the little guys affected by multinational wheeling and dealing, but "In Good Company" doesn't achieve the level of satire attained by say, Billy Wilder's "The Apartment," a film cited by Weitz as a role model. Instead of going for the Wilderesque jugular, the filmmaker seems content to keep his humor to trite one-liners involving sushi, synergy and Starbucks.

Just as "In Good Company" is not a 21st century "Apartment," Grace is not the next Jack Lemmon, as Weitz has suggested; despite his appealing Everyman persona he doesn't convey the neurotic edge that made Lemmon such a loose cannon. He might be capable of that sort of performance, but not in a movie whose dialogue is composed of lazy slacker-speak and whose key emotional moments are mostly handled through montages set to a catchy pop soundtrack.

As much as Weitz tries to invest "In Good Company" with the high stakes of mergers, layoffs and other sundry dislocations of corporate consolidation and globalization, and as much as he -- admirably -- breaks new ground in depicting late-in-life marriage, "In Good Company" remains sort of deflating, especially for fans of Weitz's wonderful 2002 comedy "About a Boy" (perhaps the secret of that film's success was that it was based on a Nick Hornby novel). It's a nifty twist that Weitz has recast things so that it's Dan, not his daughter, who makes Carter want to be a better man. If only that could have been the premise of a better movie.

In Good Company (101 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for some sexual content and drug references.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company