“‘Company’ Men”
by Scott Mantz

“In Good Company”
Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by Paul Weitz

Who’s the boss? Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid find themselves “In Good Company”

Hey there, fellow movie lovers, remember the 80’s? No, I’m not trying to revive that lame Goat Boy skit from “Saturday Night Live,” I’m serious.

The reason I ask is because I grew up in the 80’s, and I remember lots of things. Specifically, I remember coming home from school when I heard about the assassination attempt on the recently-elected President Reagan. I remember being at my Aunt’s house in New Jersey, watching MTV for the very first time and being enthralled by that exciting new medium called “the music video.” I vividly remember passing time in a Social Studies class, when the department head burst into the room to announce that the Space Shuttle Challenger had just exploded.

But some of my happiest memories came every Thursday night at 8:30, when a soon-to-be 80’s staple called “Family Ties” aired on NBC. The concept of former-hippie parents from the 60’s raising a nuclear family in the conservative 80’s provided plenty of laughs. But since I was also up to my neck in the throes of adolescence, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I had the hots for Justine Bateman, who played the older, dim-witted sister, Mallory Keaton.

Mostly though, I remember having a blast watching the antics of uptight, super-Republican Alex P. Keaton, famously portrayed by Michael J. Fox, who clashed with his family over business, ethics, and…well, just about everything. Almost as soon as the show premiered in 1982, it was obvious that Fox was the breakout star, and it was only a matter of time before he conquered the big screen as well with 1985’s “Back to the Future.” But between “Family Ties” and his other signature role, in 1987’s big business comedy “The Secret of My Success,” Fox was the perfect embodiment of the young, ambitious Wall Street yuppie.

Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Where the hell is he going with this,”right? Well, I’m glad you asked…

There I was, sitting in the darkened theater with my fingers scraping the bottom of the butter-filled popcorn barrel, totally immersed in the funny, moving and entertaining “In Good Company.” In the film, Dennis Quaid plays Dan Foreman, a 51-year-old ad exec at a popular New York-based sports magazine, where he’s been cutting his teeth for more than 20 years. He has a beautiful family and a nice big house in the suburbs, but everything changes when his magazine is sold to a big media conglomerate, and he is demoted to answering to Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), a new boss who is half his age. As if that wasn’t bad enough, complications further ensue when he starts dating Dan’s oldest daughter, Alex (Scarlett Johansson).

How ironic that his daughter’s name is Alex — the same name (well, sort of) as Michael J. Fox’s character from “Family Ties.” Because that’s when it hit me that if “In Good Company” was made around 15 or 20 years ago, the man who once played Alex P. Keaton would have been perfect as the power-hungry, but in over his head Carter. It’s hard not to think of Fox in the role after he displayed so many of the same comedic and sensitive qualities during the best of his 80’s output, not to mention during his run on “Spin City” in the 90’s.

Alas, that’s not the case, but at least the character lies in the very capable hands of 26-year-old Topher Grace. As fate would have it, Grace is also a breakout star from a hit TV series — in this case, “That 70’s Show.” Given Grace’s choice in movie roles — like 2000’s “Traffic,” this year’s well-acted indie staple “P.S.,” and spot-on cameos in “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Ocean’s Twelve” — it’s quite obvious that he has his sights on other things than becoming a tabloid magnet (like his “70’s Show” co-stars Ashton Kutcher and Wilmer Valderamma).

Grace shines alongside Dennis Quaid, who is also well cast as the charming salesman-family man whose life is thrown into a tailspin. Grace could easily have gone over the top and laid it on pretty thick, but he displays a lot of range, as his character clearly has no idea what he is doing (alas, his only previous sales experience involved a marketing tie-in with kiddie cell phones). He may have the keys to the house as far as his professional life is concerned, but because his personal life is a mess, he soon latches onto Quaid by inviting himself over for dinner, where he hooks up with Scarlett Johansson.

This is where the film loses its footing, as their initial attraction and budding romance feels too contrived to be effective. That’s too bad, since the situation understandably adds a due amount of tension to an already complex dynamic, but one still can’t help but get the impression that it wasn’t entirely necessary. Not helping matters is the fact that the usually talented Johansson, who shined in last year’s “Lost in Translation” and “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” seems to be walking through her role.

As co-produced, written and directed by Paul Weitz, who scored solidly two years ago as co-director and co-writer (with brother Chris Weitz) of “About a Boy,” the film would have been much stronger and tighter if it just focused on the psychological impact of feeling professionally obsolete. As it is, “In Good Company” is entertaining, but it loses its bite and seems to drag on much longer than it should in an effort to wrap everything up. And as timely as it may be in this day and age of media takeovers, it still feels like it would have been much more at home in the go-go 80’s, when Michael J. Fox would have been perfect for the film.