In Good Company Movie Review

Real-world credibility is a really big problem for "In Good Company," a weightless, dishonest dramedy about a middle-aged ad man whose 20-year career is upended when a corporate takeover sees him demoted in favor of a clueless, under-ripe young executive.

Dennis Quaid is believable enough as the head of ad sales for a sports magazine, and Scarlett Johansson is well cast as his 19-year-old daughter who becomes an object of desire for Quaid's wet-behind-the-ears new boss. But Topher Grace, who was great as a young man in over his head with an older woman in "P.S." a few months back, is badly miscast as the nervous ladder-climber who takes over Quaid's job, then uses the older man's experience like a life raft to keep himself afloat. And that's one of the movie's lesser problems.

Written and directed by Paul Weitz (who made "American Pie" and "About a Boy" with his brother Chris), almost every scene in the movie lacks authenticity on some level. There's never a single discussion of sports in the offices of Sports America, where not a single person wears a team jersey or baseball cap, and where there's not a single TV anywhere in sight for watching sporting events. The wood-paneled halls are populated entirely by tired, 50- and 60-year-old men (like character actors Philip Baker Hall and David Paymer) in drab suits, whom Weitz portrays as sacred cows being led to the slaughter by the insolent invasion of youth culture.

Even though we're also supposed to identify with Grace's lonely, superficial character, who feels as if he's been thrown in the deep end, Weitz skips right over a potential character-building period of adjustment in his new job, and never once shows him doing any kind of work or having a sit-down with Quaid to figure out how they can make the best of their new arrangement. When he can't even give a speech to his staff without using words like "awesome" and "dude," and demonstrates a ridiculous lack of understanding about how to woo clients, we're left to wonder how he ever got promoted to this job (or any other) to begin with.

The sublimely moody Johansson ("Lost in Translation") fares somewhat better as a NYU freshman who doesn't know her father and mother (Marg Helgenberger) have taken out a second mortgage to pay her tuition, even though mom has unexpectedly discovered she's pregnant (Weitz really stacks the deck against Quaid). At first she doesn't know that this guy she likes is her dad's boss, either. But the actress is saddled with details that sink her believability too. She supposed to be a tennis ace, yet in her few scenes on the court Johansson's form is so poor it's actually a source of unintended laughs.

Only Quaid seems to find some kind of equilibrium with the film's phoniness as his character insists on sticking to old-school hands-on-and-handshake client relations (which are most certainly outdated in the endorsement-deal era of sports advertising). It's his dissatisfaction with modern business practices, however, that leads to the story's patently absurd finale involving a showdown with the billionaire (Malcolm McDowell) who just gobbled up Sports America into his business empire. McDowell goes out of his way to visit the magazine for a big speech about corporate synergy, then one scene later makes a fateful decision that goes against everything he's just espoused.

Laden with cheap life lessons and cacophonous false notes, "In Good Company" has the overly sincere, oversimplistic air of an After-School Special for grown-ups, when what a story like this needs is some edge.

Just out on video is a film called "Rick," written by Daniel Handler of "Lemony Snicket" fame, that tells much the same story about a middle-aged middle-manager (played by Bill Pullman) forced to suck up to a 26-year-old slimeball of a boss who is sleeping with his teenage daughter. A semi-surreal, darkly comical twist on Giuseppe Verdi's tragic opera "Rigoletto," that film is a clever, stinging commentary on modern corporate culture, whereas this one has all the bite and insight of a Mickey Mouse cartoon.

Comments

In Good Company Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: PG-13, LIMITED: Wednesday, December 29, 2004<br> WIDE: Friday, January 14, 2005

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