Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Philip Baker Hall, Selma Blair, Frankie Faison, Lauren Tom, Malcolm McDowell, Clark Gregg
Written by: Paul Weitz
Directed by: Paul Weitz
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content and drug references
Running Time: 110
Date: 12/06/2004
IMDB

In Good Company (2004)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Office Waste

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 2002, writer/director Paul Weitz had his first taste of critical acclaim with the Hugh Grant comedy About a Boy, based on Nick Hornby's novel. Until then Weitz, along with his younger brother Chris, had only been associated with the terrible, yet popular comedies American Pie (1999), Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000) and Down to Earth (2001).

Apparently buoyed by this good reception, Weitz now attempts another grown up comedy with In Good Company, this time achieving only a clumsy, misguided result. Simple algebra would suggest that Weitz's only success thus far owed more to Hornby's witty source material than to anything the filmmaker contributed.

In the new film, a popular sports magazine is sold as part of a package to a huge corporation, leading to layoffs and unwanted changes within the office. Longtime ad salesman Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) suddenly finds that he has a new boss half his age, Carter Duryea (Topher Grace).

Though Carter begins as a corporate stooge with a trophy wife (Selma Blair) he quickly grows a heart and becomes personally involved in his new job. He even falls in love with Dan's beautiful, college-age daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson), much to Dan's chagrin.

Weitz lays out the whole story with earnest care, unaware that the twists are visible the whole time. Virtually the same story -- worker bee, younger boss, illicit relationship with worker bee's daughter -- was told with far more pizzazz in Daniel Handler's recent black comedy Rick.

Even so, Weitz might have enjoyed the opportunity to play a little with office politics and/or atmosphere. But he utterly fails, providing only an insulated writer's concept of what might happen in the world of cubicles. This sports magazine doesn't even have any television sets to keep up with the scores around the leagues.

Malcolm McDowell co-stars as the president of the new mega-company, who makes a token visit to his new offices for a morale-building speech. It's meant to be an explosive cameo, but it fizzles, mostly because Weitz has no concept of who this man is or what he's doing there.

The talented actors show up with the best intentions, but the script simply doesn't provide them with enough to do. Quaid enjoyed a banner year in 2002 (The Rookie, Far from Heaven) as did Johansson in 2003 (Lost in Translation, Girl with the Pearl Earring), and it's disheartening to see them struggling to break out of this middling material.

Only the underrated Selma Blair, with her brief, thankless and one-dimensional role, injects enough cynical callousness to ignite the screen for a moment.

Otherwise, Marg Helgenberger appears with goodwill as Dan's wife, and David Paymer plays an office co-worker with the only funny line in the film.

Perhaps the final clue to this film's striking mediocrity is that the original title, Synergy, was swapped for the totally forgettable new one, In Good Company. Please don't confuse it with McDowell's previous film, Robert Altman's remarkable near-masterpiece The Company.

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