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Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace get tangled up in corporate and familial reshuffling in Paul Weitz' In Good Company.

'In Good Company' is an unsubtle lecture on the malaise of corporate greed

As countless recent features have reminded us, the credo behind the phenomenal success of Seinfeld was that there would be "no hugs, no learning." Seinfeld co-creator Larry David's head might explode when he encounters In Good Company.

Here there is learning aplenty, and if you in the audience don't catch the lessons, the characters are happy to point them out. "I learned so much from you," the youngster says to his seasoned mentor. "You're a good man," the elder replies. Then they hug.

This sentimental moment comes from Paul Weitz who, with his brother Chris, has crafted interesting and provacative cinema from warm, fuzzy emotions. American Pie, against all odds, wrung warmth out of jokes about masturbation and voyeurism; About a Boy was funnier and more touching, and looked to be the work of filmmakers who could negotiate the treacherous waters of Edifying Cinema without drowning in syrup.

But the writing was already done for Weitz in About a Boy, which was based on Nick Hornby's book. In Good Company sprang wholly from Weitz' brain, and proves that the aspiring Capra has some way to go. He starts with a fine and appealing cast, culturally relevant themes, decent taste, and the best intentions, but still can't give us much reason to care about what's happening on the screen.

Quaid is an honest salesman in charge of the ad department at a sports magazine. He's good, we hear a few times, because he believes in what he's selling. But his company has been sold to another megacorp, and believing in what you do is about to become unnecessary at best, career suicide at worst. He is demoted, replaced by a kid - who just happens to be exactly half his age - who will try to sell anything to anyone, whether or not he believes in it or they need it. Predictably, Quaid and young Topher Grace have an uneasy working relationship, more so once Grace (whose personal life is falling apart) starts looking at the older man's home life with admiration and envy.

In Good Company

Dir. and writ. Paul Weitz; feat. Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Clark Gregg, Philip Baker Hall, Selma Blair, Malcolm McDowell (PG-13)
The Quaid-Grace age ratio aside, much of the set-up here stinks of narrative convenience: Grace meets and flirts with Quaid's beautiful daughter (Johansson, once again starring as Girl Who Triggers Older Man's Self-Exploration), not knowing she's his daughter, on the way to his first meeting with Quaid; Quaid's wife has a medical emergency at the exact moment the Perfect Family Man is suffering his worst moment as a father; Quaid sits on the prospect of a multi-million-dollar account, ignoring it while his work situation declines, until the movie's climax requires a mechanism.

Weitz has all the right things to say about the soullessness of the contemporary corporate universe, bringing in Malcolm McDowell to play a Rupert Murdoch-like "Teddy K" who espouses corporate synergy and whose mentality infects his followers with just enough realism that they don't quite come off as generic greedy villains. As the aspiring capitalist, Grace undoes the damage he did in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, showing that he might be able to survive the leap from TV teenagerhood to adult movie roles. But Weitz, whose heart is clearly in the right place, doesn't do anything with In Good Company to convince us that he's a new auteur of Americana. He needs to collaborate with writers again who also have something to say, but can articulate it with a little more finesse.

By John DeFore


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