Cutthroat cotton candy 

A review of In Good Company (PG-13)

click to enlarge Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) and his boss, Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), are In Good Company.
  • Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) and his boss, Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), are In Good Company.

In Good Company (PG-13)
Universal Pictures

Hard to imagine a story about corporate takeover and cutthroat business practices that actually soothes its audience. That's what In Good Company does in its best moments, leaving viewers in a gauzy feel-good state, wondering what actually happened here.

This is the story of Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), a 52-year-old advertising executive for the popular weekly Sports America. Dan works in Manhattan but commutes to the suburbs every night where he is the lone male among three luscious females -- wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger), college-age daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) and a younger teenage daughter. Dan's a softie who looks in on his sleeping girls when he returns home in the middle of the night and is calmed by the sight of their soft, sleeping faces.

Enter Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), a 26-year-old all-purpose hitter for corporate giant Globecom, the company that has bought the media company that owns Sports America. Globecom mogul Teddy K (Malcolm McDowell) has gotten wind of Carter's sales prowess -- the guy has just launched a marketing campaign that successfully sells dinosaur-shaped cell phones to 5-year-olds -- and appoints him to take over sales at the magazine, making him Dan's new boss.

Upon this comical juxtaposition hangs much of the movie. Dan is thick and solidly planted, given to a no-nonsense approach to sales, a guy with a furrowed brow born of responsibility, a guy who loves his family and his job. Carter is wired by his constant caffeine intake (read Starbucks product placement), cocky and ambitious but personally insecure, unattached since his wife of seven months dumped him. When Dan and Carter finally meet in this upended power scenario, sparks are bound to fly.

But there's a catch -- Carter doesn't exactly fit the stereotype of the young Turk. His footloose existence leaves him dangling and he soon gloms on to Dan, meeting his family in a riotous dinner scene and befriending Alex. Eventually that friendship becomes a romance, unbeknownst to Dan, and the movie's central drama revolves around this double betrayal.

Writer/director Paul Weitz has visited male bonding territory twice before with his brother Chris, in American Pie and the charming About a Boy. And in In Good Company, the bonding of Dan and Carter across lines of cultural expectation, family loyalty and personal judgment defines the film. The romantic subplot, while sweetly played, serves mainly to distract us from office politics, and another subplot that has Dan and Ann expecting a third child never really takes off. Near the film's end, a scene that brings Teddy K to the office feels false and off kilter.

What holds the picture together are the performances of Quaid and Grace, some good comic timing and the film's pervasive good nature. David Paymer is touching in a supporting role as one of Dan's salesmen, laid off by Carter. Quaid's youthful cockiness has turned into a naturally commanding earnestness that makes him far more attractive as an actor in middle age, and Grace has a sweet puppy dog quality that makes Carter Duryea, potentially an unbearable character, downright loveable.

Weitz's script seems lost in the film's final scenes, uncertain about how to tie up loose ends, and the dead end is unsettling. The audience leaves with genuine fondness for both Dan and Carter, but with a feeling that they've both dissolved into thin air, leaving us with little but a pleasant couple of hours in the dark -- not exactly a bad payoff at the movies but not a great one either.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

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