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Friday, January 14, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"In Good Company" excels at the office

Seattle Times movie critic

Resting lightly on the relaxed shoulders of Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace, "In Good Company" has that rarest of qualities for a studio film: genuine charm. On paper, it shouldn't work at all: It's a fairly predictable corporate comedy about how older guys with old-school values will always triumph over soulless young guys only interested in making money. (And that's always how it works, right? Well, it's pretty to think so.) But the movie is written (by Paul Weitz, who also directed) with such snap and intelligence that it just floats along, effortlessly entertaining.

Dan (Quaid) is a 51-year-old regular fellow, a Manhattan advertising executive at a sports magazine who lives in the suburbs with his picturesque family. As the film begins, his wife (Marg Helgenberger) has just learned that she is expecting a baby (there's a funny bit early on, when Dan thinks the pregnancy-test box he found in the garbage belongs to his teenage daughter), which is surprising but welcome news. Because of the baby, and because daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) will be transferring to a more expensive college, Dan's job takes on even more importance — but things are about to change on that front, too.

Enter Carter Duryea (Grace), a skinny, fast-talking 26-year-old who looks like an overgrown kid in his expensive suits. He's being groomed, to his delight, for upper management, and he talks a mysterious corporate language that leaves Dan slack-jawed and skeptical. (The magazine, says Carter, ideally should become "a portal to a synergized world of cross-promotion.") Thanks to a few corporate mouseclicks, Carter's company quickly acquires Dan's magazine, and Carter, just like that, becomes Dan's boss.

Movie review


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***½
"In Good Company," with Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Clark Gregg, Philip Baker Hall. Written and directed by Paul Weitz.

Though "In Good Company" has the bouncy rhythms of a romantic comedy, it really isn't one (though there's a romantic subplot involving Carter and Alex; the old "boss' daughter" thing, turned upside down) — the real relationship here is between the two men, and the movie hits its stride at the office. Weitz (who, agewise, falls somewhere in between the two) finds sympathy in both roles: Dan is stubborn, resistant to change but salt-of-the-earth; Carter is arrogant and clueless but sweetly vulnerable — beneath that bravado is a very young man who's not entirely sure of the rules for the game he's playing. At home, he wanly taps on the glass of a fish tank, trying to make a connection with someone.

Quaid is well-cast (he's handsome, but in a very regular-guy-ad-executive kind of way) and immensely likable as Dan, who often has the mystified air of a man who's fallen down a rabbit-hole into a strange new world. But the movie belongs to Grace and his irresistible comic rhythms. Carter has a sort of practiced earnestness that he's come to believe in: When he tells Dan that the older man has potential to become "an awesome wingman," you know Carter really believes he's bestowing a compliment. And the scene in which Carter leads his first meeting is marvelously funny: "Are you psyched? Are you psyched?" bellows Grace, a buttoned-up cheerleader lacking only pompoms, and the staff gets caught up in his fervor.

Ultimately, this workplace fairy tale creates its own cheer. When its time is up, you'll feel like you've been in good company.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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