Must Hate Dogs

MoviesPam and I went to a so-called sneak preview last night. I say “so-called” in order to distinguish this screening from a true sneak, where there might still be a chance of changing anything about the film. This is one of those wide-release marketing sneaks, which usually mean one of two things.

One, the marketing department really isn’t sure how to position the film, and honestly wants to gauge mainstream American reaction. Or two, they’re pretty sure the critics will blast the thing to pieces, and want to generate some less-discriminating word of mouth to counter the anticipated lambasting.

This film — the new John Cusack/Diane Lane vehicle Must Love Dogs — is most assuredly not a case of the former.

Don’t get me wrong — I love a good romantic comedy. I’m a huge John Cusack fan to boot. But alas, this offered none of the benefits of either. The dialogue was stilted, the delivery was flat across the board, every encounter was precisely orchestrated and on-the-nose, and not a single character in the piece had any credible motivation other than “because this is what the script says I should do.” The comic timing was atrocious (save for a few signature Cusack moments), what laughs the picture elicited were completely forced, and — perhaps most damningly — there was absolutely nothing resembling a story (I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how much of that lack can be attributed to the source material).

The script read like a formulaic, by-the-book first-year writing student’s homework assignment, the directing was functionally nonexistent, and everyone involved seemed to be just going by the numbers, waiting for the resulting paycheck. As Family Ties and Spin City creator Gary David “Sit, Ubu, Sit” Goldberg’s big-screen directorial debut (well, except for the 1989 flop Dad), I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised — this was clearly a case of a television producer’s ill-advised attempt to make the leap to the big screen.

Sorry, David, but what might be forgivable in the sitcom arena (and even there I’m not so sure this qualifies) just doesn’t cut it here.

Oh, and one more thing — if ever there were a textbook example of how not to handle product placement, this movie would most definitely be it. I lost count of how many times they beat you over the head with the name “————.com”; if I had been inclined to consider the site before seeing this movie, I’d run fleeing from it now (I can’t even bring myself to enter its name now).

Naturally, the audience seemed to enjoy it (which may tell you something about the taste of your average audience, but I digress). I sat numbly, checking my watch and shaking my head in utter disbelief. (But even given the audience’s apparent amusement, it’s ridiculously clear that almost all of the “user comments” at the IMDb are studio plants — it’s like they’re not even trying to sound credible.)

Pam, who was far more forgiving than I (she seemed most upset about the film’s painfully deliberate refusal to utter the dreaded “F-word”: forty), had an explanation for its acceptance, which I’ll get to in a moment.

The only saving grace, as far as I was concerned, was the fact that our attendance allowed us to stay for the second feature, Batman Begins. I’d already seen it, but I was more than happy to watch it again on the big screen. The two pictures were like night and day, not only in terms of filmic capability, but in tone as well. I can’t imagine two pictures less suited to share a double-bill (there’s a challenge for you — look at your paper’s local listings and see if you can come up with a less appropriate pairing). The logistical constraints were understandable, though (how many pictures does Warner Bros. have out at the moment?), and may have actually served a practical purpose — after all, given the lack of audience crossover, the theater could easily resell tickets to the second feature alone (as they did).

Pam hated it. So from a date standpoint, the evening was pretty much a wash.

But Pam did have an interesting interpretation for our differing viewpoints: The movies were both, in a sense, comic-book movies. It’s just that each used a different archetype as its model. Batman used the male-oriented heroic fantasy, while Dogs adopted the female-directed romantic ideal. Boys grow up wanting to save the day, while girls grow up wanting to find the perfect prince to sweep them off their feet. Where boys are more willing to suspend disbelief so long as the core heroic theme remains, girls are more willing to allow shortcomings if the romantic story thread dominates. It’s an overgeneralization, to be sure, but a defensible one.

Or, at least it would be if she had been able to use anything other than this stinker as her romantic-movie example. Still, I understand what she’s going through: I liked Daredevil.

(Well, the Director’s Cut, anyway, which should not be confused with the infinitely inferior theatrical release.)


At 12:59 AM, Daniel said...

I think Pam hit the nail right on the head. Actually, from my years of experience in watching crappy movies (my preferred art form, after all) double-features frequently make NO sense as pairs.
Also, let's face it--most audiences really *like* formulaic pictures. I will never forget the one shoot-em-up that I watched years ago with Mike. The full house *loved* the picture; we were busy timing the fight scenes down to the minute (they lasted about seven minutes and there was an EXACT twenty-minute lapse between each of them). The movie industry is not, and has never been, stupid. They know that for every person who wants to see "2001" (which, as you know, I find to be the most insufferable piece of pretentious crap that I've ever paid to see), there are fifty thousand who want to watch something that is, in essence, a cowboy movie. Some of them are good, some of them aren't.
It would be a great day for American movies if a happy medium could be reached between pretentious crap and total blither.


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