'Good Company' fails in its venture

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In Good Company thinks it's brimming with compassion for middle-aged workers squeezed out of their jobs by tactless, heartless, visionless corporate muckety-mucks who regard the bottom line as sacrosanct and care little about anything else.

Too bad writer-director Paul Weitz (About a Boy) mistakes compassion for insight. Too bad he doesn't think a film about such issues can stand on its own, but instead forces on a subplot in which his hero's daughter falls for the corporate hatchet man. And too bad he doesn't have enough faith in his material to see it through to the bitter end, but rather grafts on a feel-good conclusion that doesn't satisfy.

At 51, Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) thinks he's got it good. He's got a beautiful wife (a barely there Marg Helgenberger), two great kids and a good job, as ad sales manager for a national sports magazine.

Then the magazine is sold to a corporate raider more interested in platitudes than common, or business, sense. The first thing the new boss' flunkies do is install 26-year-old Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) as ad sales director. He knows nothing about sales. Would somebody so green be put in charge of the corporate arm that brings in all the money?

That's only the first of many plot points hard to swallow here. The romance between Carter and Dan's 18-year-old daughter, Alex (Scarlett Johansson), seems entirely arbitrary; sparks never fly between the two. And Weitz can't decide whether Carter's a jerk or an expert at pragmatism, since he's smart enough to keep Dan around as his "wingman."

Quaid proves the perfect choice to play Dan; few actors have aged so gracefully, at once retaining a boyish aura and betraying a world-weariness that only comes with sad experience. Grace comes across as too inconsequential to be taken seriously as a corporate boy wonder.

In Good Company has its heart in the right place, and could have been an insightful rumination on corporate shortsightedness and mid-life obsolescence. Instead, it's another one of those Hollywood films whose feel for the workingman's life seems to come exclusively from other movies.

In Good Company

Starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson

Directed by Paul Weitz

Rated PG-13

Released by Universal

Time 110 minutes

Sun Score **

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