The meet-cute-via-Internet dating plot is an already mundane concept and, despite a glimmer of charisma in some of the characters, this attempt at good-old-fashioned romantic comedy in an era of desperate connections is a bit of a bow-wow. Too pat when it needs to be hairy, "Must Love Dogs" fails to find the undercurrents of complex emotion beneath its pretty patter surface.
As Sarah, the divorcee prodded by her siblings into risking another go round at love, Diane Lane looks like every woman of a certain age might hope to, but too mature for a perfect match with the "girl" references John Cusack's Jake uses to describe his feelings for her, though that tag is not really surprising in a movie which presents all its characters exhibiting very immature neediness. Cusack is entertaining as Jake, a loquacious boat-builder, who apparently understands the true depth of love because he watches "Dr. Zhivago" over and over and dines in ethnic restaurants. Lane, whose Sarah signals her lack of certitude by constantly changing her hairstyles for every date she undertakes, can't find much to play in someone who is little more than a cursor jumped around artificially to keep the plot going.
Supporting actors do their stuff -- Christopher Plummer as Sarah's widowed dad with a yen for the ladies lays on a bit of Irish blarney to thicken the portrayal, and Stockard Channing as a trailer park divorcee has enough going on inside to register as more than just a caricature. Elizabeth Perkins, stuck as the bossiest of Sarah's siblings, and Dermot Mulroney, forced as usual to try to make a hunky guy a human being, do their best, but the result can never rise above standard middlebrow sitcom. The main dog, a gentle Newfoundland, borrowed by Sarah from one of her brothers to fulfill her dating ad requirement, is, reportedly, played by two different canines. They have no trouble creating a convincing character. Starring Diane Lane, John Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins, Christopher Plummer, Dermot Mulroney and Stockard Channing. Directed and written by Gary David Goldberg. Produced by Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd and Gary David Goldberg. A Warner Bros. release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual content. Running time: 98 min