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Dog tired Tedious characters, wooden plot sink 'Darling Companion'

If you are in Lawrence Kasdan's target audience for "Darling Companion," you probably remember -- indeed, were probably deeply affected by -- the movie that put him on the map 29 years ago.

"The Big Chill" tapped into the zeitgeist of the early '80s with its depiction of angsty, self-absorbed thirtysomethings (I feel justified in using that overworked term, since the movie spawned the TV series) contemplating their changing roles, responsibilities and ideals.

Maybe you also saw "Grand Canyon," Kasdan's 1991 film that employed a similar formula -- an accomplished ensemble cast (this time in their 40s) doing lots of talking and navel-gazing.

If so, it should come as no surprise that he has trotted out the format once again for his current offering, a shaggy dog story whose structure feels as long-in-the-tooth and tiresome as some of its characters.

Instead of a delightful and insightful look at challenges facing people in their 60s, Kasdan has delivered a sluggish and insipid movie that is less interesting and less compelling than a Cialis commercial.

"Darling Companion" follows Beth (Diane Keaton) and Joseph Winter (Kevin Kline), an affluent Denver couple who have grown apart as their two daughters have grown up. Joseph is a workaholic back surgeon who has little patience for the histrionics of Beth, a woman who appears not to have had a career and who now has too much time on her hands.

Beth and daughter Grace (Elisabeth Moss) rescue an injured dog from the side of the freeway. Despite not being "dog people," they take the pooch to a vet, Sam (Jay Ali), who exchanges "we met cute and are going to fall in love" eyes with Grace and marries her a year later at the Winters' vacation home in the Rockies.

After the ceremony Joseph takes the dog, which Beth has named Freeway, for a post-nuptial walk in the woods and, while he is taking a phone call, the dog takes off after a deer.

That sound you hear is the creaking of the plot contrivance.

For the rest of the movie, Beth, Joseph and a handful of other underdrawn characters roam about in various pairings, hollering the dog's name and having mind-numbingly dull conversations that we are supposed to believe serve to mend all varieties of dysfunctional, damaged and just plain dumb relationships.

Helping with the hunt are Joseph's sister, Penny (Dianne Wiest); her boyfriend, Russell (Richard Jenkins); Penny's son, Bryan (Mark Duplass); and the caretaker of the cabin, Carmen (Ayelet Zurer), who professes to have psychic abilities that enable her to sense where Freeway is.

None of these characters, not even the clairvoyant Carmen, can see that the dog ran away because Beth and Joseph are tedious and whiny, and once Grace was out of the picture he took the first opportunity to cut loose rather than be subjected to any more of their lame, predictable interactions.

Absolutely no blame for this snooze-fest can be laid at the feet of the stars, who do the best they can with the rough material they have been given. Keaton and Kline have some nice chemistry, as do the always-wonderful Wiest and Jenkins. It would have been great if they had had better lines and more meaty issues to sink their teeth into.

email: bsullivan@buffnews.com

> MOVIE REVIEW

DARLING COMPANION

Review: 1 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Diane Keaton, Kevin Klein, Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, Ayelet Zurer, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Sam Shepard

DIRECTOR: Lawrence Kasdan

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for some sexual content, including references and language.

THE LOWDOWN: Emotions run high during a search for a missing dog.