Sharp take on corporate hypocrisy or character study with rom-com underpinnings? You can't have it both ways. Yet that's just what Paul Weitz attempts, coming to a fork in the road and trying to follow each path. Sadly, pulling in two different directions leaves the centre just a little weak.
Doing a better Harrison Ford than Ford does these days, Dennis Quaid is all grimace, grump and fatherly concern, only openly emoting after neurotic boy wonder Topher Grace arrives in the wake of a corporate buyout. Sparky and smart, their interaction has edge - which is more than can be said for poor Scarlett Johansson, whose work as DQ's languid daughter mostly consists of carrying plot points for the men to get tangled in.
The direction's clogged early on, as if Weitz is trying to atone for the American Pie trilogy by being deadly earnest. But it picks up once Carter gains a little self-awareness, enabling the formula that worked so well for the writer/director in About A Boy to get another outing. Save a sledgehammer Porsche joke, most of the laughs are subtle and character-driven, while the budding romance between Carter and Alex has the requisite parts of hesitance and anticipation.
The corporate scenes don't fare as well in their unfolding (the "fair play" sentiments espoused in Foreman's monologue would've seemed out of date 40 years ago), but what doesn't work is surpassed by what does. Specifically? Grace, who possesses an off-kilter vulnerability that makes his ascension and subsequent crisis of conscience believable in a way that, say, his That '70s Show castmate Ashton Kutcher couldn't manage in a million years.
The conclusion's so comfy even Frank Capra might have asked for less sugar, but Topher's turn makes the movie, elevating an MOR comedy into something genuinely charming. Although any movie indicting corporate synergy-think should be less obvious about product placement. One coffee chain clocks so much screentime, it's surprising they didn't get top billing.