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Movie Review: Darling Companion

'Companion:' Dog story with little bark, no bite
Darling Companion
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 103 min
Release Date: 2012-04-20
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By "Lawrence Toppman"
The Charlotte Observer

At what point do you give up on a once-great artist?

Between 1980 and 1994, Lawrence Kasdan wrote or directed “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Body Heat,” “The Empire Strikes Back.,” “The Big Chill” and the lesser-known but memorable “Silverado,” “Continental Divide,” “Grand Canyon” and “Wyatt Earp.” (He also wrote “The Bodyguard,” perhaps to pay rent.)

But over the last 18 years, he has had just three credits: the vague and forgettable “Mumford” and “Dreamcatcher” and the current “Darling Companion,” the nadir of his career. This flaccid movie suggests he said everything he needed to say long ago – and said it more quickly, cleverly and with more point.

It echoes the far superior “Canyon,” which Kasdan also directed and wrote with Meg Kasdan, his wife. Kevin Kline, who played a man examining his conscience in that film, plays another one here: Joseph, a surgeon who operates on spines and reluctantly agrees to let wife Beth (Diane Keaton) keep the mutt she found by the side of the freeway. (I never could figure out what job Beth had, if any.)

The couple visit their mountain cabin with Freeway the pooch and three human companions. Joseph’s sister, Penny (Dianne Wiest), has decided to use the buyout from her newspaper job to fund the dream of her boyfriend, Russell (Richard Jenkins): a pub in Omaha that will serve British food and warm beer. Bryan (Mark Duplass), one of Joseph’s associates at the hospital, takes a romantic interest in Carmen (Ayelet Zurer), the cabin’s live-in caretaker. The dog runs away one afternoon, and the others spend the rest of the movie looking for him – and, metaphorically, for themselves.

The Kasdans have been strangely careless about details. Beth, who seems to be at least 65 years old, looks forward to menopause. Carmen claims to have second sight, inherited from gypsy ancestors, which the others follow doggedly despite little evidence that she’s right. Joseph and Beth find Russell’s pub dream absurd; then, without any evidence to the contrary, they change their minds.

The film’s filled with inconsequential scenes and supporting characters who add useless atmosphere or by-the-book diversity. (Beth and Joseph’s daughter marries an Indian vet, and both of them disappear at once.)

Kasdan has juggled comedy and drama smoothly in many films – consider “The Accidental Tourist” – but stumbles repeatedly here. Would-be humor comes from clunky encounters with obstinate rams or a dog-mad zany in the woods, while bickering passes for soul-searching.

Duplass and Zurer amble toward their obligatory romance but seem to have been inserted so we could have two principals under 60. The other leads barely make any impression; perhaps they were honoring an old friend who pressed them into service unworthy of himself and them.

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5/23/2012 - The Charlotte Observer - Lawrence Toppman

An extended family searches for a dog – and some meaning in their lives – in the mountains of the west. Zzzzz.

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