The title alone begs derision: Must Love Dogs? If this film is included in that canine category, one can only demur. If not for the talent and natural charisma of its star, Diane Lane, this would be an entirely worthless enterprise.

Lane plays Sarah, a deserted-and-divorced schoolteacher whose unnaturally close family-father Bill (Christopher Plummer), sisters Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) and Christine (Ali Hillis) and their respective partners-are tireless matchmakers for her next husband. Like Edison discovering electricity, they unearth the world of Internet dating for her, and come up with a raft of unsuitable candidates for her to shun. Actually, the two lead contenders for her sorely bruised heart are Bob (Dermot Mulroney), the father of the most obnoxiously precocious little member of Sarah's classroom, and Jake (John Cusack), an Internet hookup and ultra-sensitive romantic who builds carefully crafted wooden boats (versus those blasted fiberglass modernities) and whose favorite movie is Dr. Zhivago.

That last factoid should be reason enough to flee from him as fast as she can, never mind that Cusack phones in his usual "tender, lonely guy" performance, begun when he stood with that infernal boombox over his head in Say Anything (thereby ruining Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" for me forever), and honed in subsequent movies like High Fidelity. But Sarah is a compassionate soul, equally taken with Bob's too-easy seductive ways, which conceal a sleaze as deep as the San Andreas Fault. Guess who ends up winning the heart of Miss Scared to Be a Spinster?

As noted, without Lane, who wrings some actual humor and warmth out of the lame dialogue and lamer situations she's enmeshed in, this would be unwatchable, never more so than the moment when she and her sisters break into a communal sing of the "Partridge Family" theme, with all the fake spontaneity and eye-rolling whimsy of similar movies this gambit was ripped off from, like My Best Friend's Wedding and The Next Best Thing. (Stop this unengaging madness, once and for all!)

Plummer, a Yeats-quoting Irishman to a painful fault, embarrasses himself for all time as he gleefully rocks his head to his daughters' "music." The script despicably condones his unfeeling exploitation of three simultaneous girlfriends with his mea culpa that they don't meaning anything to him since his true love, the girls' mother, died. (Maybe the filmmakers felt that having all three inamoratas be age-appropriate to him, instead of pubescent bimbos, constituted real bravery and taste on their parts.) As one of them, a hideously made-up Stockard Channing is wasted, playing a vulgarian with a heart of gold who-what inspiration!-plays the Internet hookup game herself and gets involved with a boy who could be her grandson. (And, oh, the hilarity which ensues!) As for the rest, Hillis is given nothing to do save cluelessly round out that classic three-sisters trope; Jordana Spiro briefly enlivens things as a dim date of Cusack, and Perkins provides a faint spark with her physical and comic wryness (although her hair stylist seems hell-bent on haplessly reviving The Flip on her).
-David Noh