- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

Imagine climbing the corporate ladder only to find a man half your age sitting on the top rung. Dennis Quaid’s 50-something workhorse slams into the inequities of corporate buyouts in a sharp new drama from the creator of 2002’s “About a Boy.”

“In Good Company” posits Mr. Quaid as the ad man forced to deal with an upstart boss (Topher Grace) who falls for his daughter.

Writer/director Paul Weitz skillfully skewers a business climate that sees little wrong in elevating the inexperienced.

Then, alas, he forces a square happy ending into a round hole of a drama, sort of like a CEO promising reform, then bribing the auditors.

Mr. Quaid’s Dan Foreman is the kind of guy you’d see waiting on the Metro platform each weekday, a decent man with more tenacity than talent. It’s hard to imagine a role better suited to Mr. Quaid’s own dinged-and-dented but resilient persona.

Dan has carved a good life for his wife and two daughters. Yet, when he finds out another baby may be on the way, he fears for his financial sanity.

Those worries mount when the magazine for which he sells ad space is bought out by an uber-tycoon named Teddy K (Malcolm McDowell in full sneer mode).

Dan survives round after round of layoffs but is demoted to make room for Carter (Mr. Grace), a go-getter who hasn’t sold so much as one ad in his life.

Carter’s life appears gilded, but all isn’t well on his home front. His new bride (Selma Blair) is packing her bags — one of the least convincing scenes in the film — and he doesn’t seem to know what to do with his newfound wealth.

His world rights itself when he meets Dan’s daughter Alex, played by the hardest-working young actress in show business, Scarlett Johansson.

“In Good Company” starts out as a blistering look at corporate insanities, then organically moves into an expose on male relationships. But Mr. Weitz lacks faith in both themes, witness the Carter/Alex romance, which has nowhere to go once the sparks fly.

A late stage appearance by Teddy K offers the chance for the kind of inspiring finale “Company” deserves. Yet Mr. Weitz overplays his hand, letting the moment spin off into a feel-good story capper that betrays the film’s spirit.

Mr. Weitz parallels the two very different male leads in a series of crisply shaped sequences that show he’s growing in his craft. The creative force behind “American Pie” could be ready to join “Sideways’” Alexander Payne as a young American auteur of note.

Mr. Grace fails to take a definitive step forward in his film career as the manic Carter. He’s magnetic and affable and conveys Carter’s emptiness without losing the room. But he’s more mannered than he’s been in recent films like the peculiar “P.S.,” and by the final reel we wish he would just take a deep breath and try another, better take.

Despite the compromises of the final act, “In Good Company” puts a human face on corporate downsizing and critiques capitalism in a way that an unbalanced documentary like last year’s “The Corporation” can’t touch.

By itself, David Paymer’s sly turn as a downsized executive would be enough to win our sympathy. The actor’s lines are few, but each quip draws blood.

So does “In Good Company” until its toothless final act.

***

WHAT: “In Good Company”

RATING: PG-13 (Alcohol use, mature themes and strong language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Paul Weitz. Cinematography by Remi Adefarasin. Original music by Stephen Trask.

RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes

WEB SITE: www.ingoodcompanymovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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