An often lively comedy-drama that lands some nice jabs at the mega-corp ethos, “In Good Company” makes for pretty good company until going soft when it counts. Able and appealing cast led by Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace and Scarlett Johansson brings to life the touchy personal dynamics of writer-director Paul Weitz’s tale of a young go-getter who first becomes an older man’s boss and then romances his daughter. Universal release looks to score as a solid performer with general audiences.
Trying to tap a vein of blended romantic pathos and barbed business-world satire that calls to mind Billy Wilder’s 1960 classic “The Apartment,” with an unmistakable dash of “The Graduate,” Weitz, while unable to match those models, nevertheless exhibits skills that remain closer to the deft mixed moods of “About a Boy” than to the raucous crudeness of “American Pie,” both co-directed with his brother Chris, here on board only as a producer.
Immediately establishing a dynamic shrewdly designed to interest two generations, yarn intros Dan Foreman (Quaid) who, after 20 successful years with Gotham-based Sports America, is replaced as head of ad sales when the popular magazine is acquired by giant Globecom.
Supplanting him at the top is 26-year-old Carter Duryea (Grace), whose boyish good looks and self-described “ninja assassin” competitiveness supposedly make up for his complete lack of experience in sales. Considered a dinosaur by the half-his-age hotshot, Dan is tentatively kept on, although many of the less productive old guard are about to be shown the door.
Pic is at its best in this early section, effectively catching the anxiety behind the eager-to-please faces of the long-timers, the corporatespeak about “synergy” and getting “psyched” that Carter uses to try to excite his uniformly older underlings, and the rumors about what’s in store and who’s going to get canned.
Best of all is Dan’s scarcely disguised disdain for his new boss and the entire culture he represents. Quaid’s jock persona serves him well here as a sports-rag lifer who, while swallowing the bitter pill of demotion, just can’t bring himself to take much crap from the green little whippersnapper regardless of the fact that, with a wife and two teenage girls to support, Dan can scarcely afford to be jobless.
Dan’s home life is also presented in witty terms initially. When he finds a used pregnancy-test package in the bathroom, you can feel his indignant fury rise over the assumption the user was his daughter Alex (Johansson), whom you can also tell he presumes is still a virgin. The joke is on Dan, as the expectant female turns out to be his wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger), once again a mother-to-be in her 40s.
Although he’s got a man’s job, Carter is far from being a man on any other front. He can’t hold onto his immature wife of seven months (Selma Blair), who retreats home to mom and dad; he wrecks his new Porsche the moment he drives it off the dealer’s lot, and in a panic of loneliness imposes himself on Dan for a family dinner, where he finds in Alex the only outlet for his feelings of vulnerability and insecurity.
This covert Benjamin-and-Elaine romance has an initial sweetness marred only by the somewhat unseemly directness with which Alex comes on to Carter once she gets her own dorm room at NYU. But little by little, the story’s schematic frame comes to dominate over its fresh human moments, as Dan discovers what his boss is doing to his beloved daughter, exacts immediate physical revenge and eventually sets his sights on turning the tables at work.
Even more damaging to the film are office-related incidents that feel dramatically forced and far-fetched. Much of the difficulty stems from a sudden visit paid to Sports America by the imperious head of Globecom (an unbilled, revved up Malcolm McDowell), whose glib, jargon-larded spiel is interrupted by uncharacteristically sincere and noble remarks from Dan. The corporate hatchet man out for Dan’s scalp is grossly caricatured, and Carter’s ultimate dawning of self-awareness is too pat and tidy for a movie that begins with a reasonable expression of life’s messiness.
Still, there are saving graces, beginning with Quaid’s performance as a competent, decent, thoroughly exasperated old-schooler who’s always tried to do the right thing at home and at work; as Alex puts it, “I’m cursed with a functional family.” Grace underacts effectively in the corporate scenes and those with Quaid, but plays it too close to the vest for the viewer to feel entirely comfortable with his behavior vis-a-vis Alex. Johansson’s offhand appeal comes through as a girl anxious to shed her father-encouraged tennis player image.
Proceedings are generally enhanced by the graceful stability of Weitz’s directorial style, which is supported by solid tech work.