Dennis Quaid……….Dan Foreman
Topher Grace……….Carter Duryea
Scarlett Johansson……….Alex Foreman
Marg Helgenberger……….Ann Foreman
Philip Baker Hall……….Eugene Kalb
Universal presents the film In Good Company. Running time: 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for some sexual content and drug references).
“Synergy” is a corporate approach meaning to work together, to be cooperative. Makes sense in theory, but how do you apply synergy during a corporate takeover? When a media conglomerate acquires a new company it’s never a win-win situation. The corporation will ransack the assets and cut ties with the staff, achieving a false sense of productivity. Screenwriter Paul Weitz, of American Pie and About a Boy acclaim, follows this credo of corporate mentality with his latest film In Good Company.
Dennis Quaid plays Dan Foreman, the head of advertising sales for a sports magazine. He’s got a nice office and a cushy salary and is about to net a big account from client Eugene Kalb (Philip Baker Hall). Kalb is apprehensive because nobody has the attention span for print ads; everything is TV or Internet. Then misfortune happens. The successful sports magazine is purchased by a media conglomerateur named Teddy K (think Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch).
Teddy K has a young, 26-year-old upstart in Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) whom he appoints to replace Dan. Carter knows nothing about ad sales, but he has a stringent firing procedure. So, as Dan’s friends go on the chopping block, he remains as Carter’s “awesome wingman.” Dan accepts the demotion only for the fact that his daughter has been accepted to New York University; his wife is pregnant; and there’s also a mortgage to worry about.
The corporate takeover is the movie’s foundation; but it is the relationship between Dan and his wet-behind-the-ears boss that gives the movie a focus. There is a bit of humility to be had watching the way the two interact. Topher Grace may joke that he “phoned in his performance in that Dennis Quaid movie” while talking to Danny Ocean (George Clooney) in Ocean’s Twelve, but that is so false. Grace shows great acting potential playing a guy whose experience in advertising does not merit the success he has achieved. His confidant Dennis Quaid is naturally likable, playing the role of the aging ad executive whose position is usurped. Even though their personalities conflict, they have a great chemistry with one another.
Another interesting facet of this film is the lifestyle differences between Carter and Dan. Unlike Dan, who has a loving family, Carter is recently divorced. As he struggles to deal with single life, Carter charms his way into a dinner with Dan’s family. Inside the family household Carter meets Dan’s wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger) and his oldest daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson). Alex and Carter become enamored with each other and begin dating. This brings about a huge conflict between Alex and her father. Yes, Dan is really pissed that Carter would date his daughter – punching him in the face as a result – but Dan is really upset that Alex would do such an act and keep it a secret. “There used to be a time when we would tell each other everything,” Dan says.
If this were a teenage comedy the Alex-Carter affair would be a syrupy romantic tale the scale of She’s All That or Here on Earth. Thankfully, writer-director Paul Weitz has more faith in his characters. He gives us good-looking characters with self-doubt. Both Alex and Carter second-guess the directions their lives have taken. There was a time Carter didn’t want to excel at business. Alex doubts herself as a writer.
Scarlett Johansson gives an understated performance as Dan’s daughter. If In Good Company was made in the same vein as American Pie the role of Alex would have been miscast. Johansson works because there is a fascination greater than her attractiveness. Carter is drawn to Alex because she understands him better than his ex-wife of seven months.
David Paymer’s Morty character is also a surprise. Paymer is one of those actors that you see in movies, but you can’t quite remember his name. (He played Leo Devoe, the guy who scammed his life insurance company in 1995’s Get Shorty.) Morty was one of Dan’s close friends, an old-timer at the sports magazine who was let go. His firing is eerily similar to the “dog eat dog world” state of job security today. At his age another advertising firm probably won’t hire Morty. Which is a shame. His quips alone should merit an interview.
In Good Company is far from a perfect movie. Nevertheless, it is a delightful relationship comedy with solid acting by the ensemble cast.