You're the successful 51-year-old head of ad sales for a weekly sports magazine that gets scooped up by the multi-national conglomerate Globecom. Globecom wants to cut the bottom line. Globecom believes in "synergy." Globecom hires a 26-year-old hotshot who knows nothing about ad sales to take your job and become your new boss. And if that isn't bad enough, this slick little weasel is having an affair with your college-age daughter.
This is ripe material for a smart, up-to-the-moment comedy about the corporate new world order, and Paul Weitz's "In Good Company" is that and more, a smooth mixture of satire and sentiment that owes an obvious debt to "The Apartment," not to mention "Jerry Maguire." Dennis Quaid is the deposed baby-boomer Dan Foreman, who finds he has to grin and bear his new role as "wingman" for young Carter Duryea (Topher Grace). Dan not only has to pay for his daughter Alex's (Scarlett Johansson) NYU education, but his wife (Marg Helgenberger) startles him with the news that she's pregnant. Young Carter likes to say how "psyched" he is by his speedy promotion, but he's got problems of his own. His wife has left him, his staff resents him and under his wafer-thin bravado he's so lonely he invites himself to Dan's house for dinner.
It's amazing how seldom Hollywood movies address work as a subject. As if it weren't startling enough to see a comedy with some connection to the real world of economics, this one asks us to identify with the Older Man, not the Youth. In movies, Father hasn't known best since the 1950s.
Weitz's comedy has no rancor. Its satirical teeth are more sweet than savage. Carter isn't a weasel. He's hapless and in over his head, and once he gets over his manic power tripping, it occurs to him that he could actually learn something from Dan. What he doesn't want Dan to learn, under any circumstances, is that Dan's daughter is sleeping with his new boss.
Quaid is at the top of his game: he's a slow-burn delight. One can imagine Harrison Ford playing this part, but the beats would be a little more sluggish. One could just as easily picture the lean young Tom Hanks as Carter. The likable Grace is a worthy successor, his comic style an elastic mix of cockiness and stumbling self-deprecation. A radiant, seductive Johansson adds spice to the movie's considerable charm. In a holiday movie season up to its neck in darkness, this nimble comedy is a welcome respite.