In Good Company

“In Good Company,” the 2004 flick from writer/director Paul Weitz, is the definition of a mixed bag. What Weitz gets right is pretty good; what he gets wrong shows the missed opportunities that could have made the film better.

Dan (Dennis Quaid) is an old-school ad salesman for a sports magazine. In a shockingly prescient story, his parent company is not doing so well and is bought out by a mega-conglomerate. That’s not all of his worries; his oldest daughter, Alex (Scarlet Johansson), gets accepted to NYU and he promises her she can go not long after he finds out he and his wife are expecting another kid.

With the acquisition comes Carter (Topher Grace), an up-and-coming youngster who has bright ideas about cell phones but never took the time to figure out what he wanted to do. When his company buys out the magazine, he’s put in charge of the ad sales department with the bottom-line directive to raise profits by 20 percent, be it through more sales or layoffs.

All the good in the story comes from these two; Carter is not just a soulless jerk like his mentor. He feels bad when he has to lay off employees, and after a while, he’s smart enough to take advice from the ‘dinosaurs’ who have been in the business longer than he’s been alive. He knows that he’s isn’t ready for this position, but he tries to learn everything he can so he can be better.

Dan is drawn with the same subtle brush; he’s upset at being shoved out of a leadership position, but he’s not petty in dealing with his ‘green’ superior. He’s even big enough to look out for the kid who clearly needs the help.

What was billed as a clichd antagonistic relationship ends up being a slightly strained mentor-mentee relationship. I didn’t see it coming but it was just the right note for the story.

Now comes the bad.

“In Good Company” is mostly a story for adults. Not that youngsters can’t get anything out of it, but it’s an adult story. However, the film is saddled with the favored PG-13 rating, which prohibits any adult language. Most of the time, I wouldn’t comment about something that’s absent in a film, but here, hearing adults use kiddie, almost-swear words is just distracting and robs the movie of any authenticity.

The other major misstep was casting Johansson as Alex; she ends up dating her dad’s boss, and while the men in the movie are nicely characterized, she isn’t. Alex is a fairly blank character, and while Johansson has her skills, she doesn’t bring anything else to the screen, so Alex stays blank. Another actress, Evan Rachel Wood comes to mind but there are others, probably could have done more with the underwritten role.

There was a lot of potential here; shame it didn’t deliver.

“In Good Company” (2004)

Written and directed by Paul Weitz.

Starring: Dennis Quaid (Dan)

Topher Grace (Carter)

Scarlet Johansson (Alex)