By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY

Very Good - 3 out of 4 stars

The romantic comedy Must Love Dogs is a breath of fresh air amid the superheroes, aliens and bombastic explosions of summer. Must Love Dogs' John Cusack and Diane Lane fall for each other in a comedy about dating after divorce.

Much as I hate the term and very often the genre itself it's a bona fide chick flick. But while so many films in that genre try to manipulate audiences to tears, Dogs is all about laughs.

The sometimes corny story, based on a novel by Claire Cook, is raised to a higher level by the presence of John Cusack, an actor who embodies warmth, wit, intelligence and low-key charm.

Director Gary David Goldberg has said he gave the script to Cusack to add his own touches, resulting in some clever and engaging repartee with Diane Lane, another intelligent and likable actor.

Lane plays Sarah, a preschool teacher who has been divorced for almost a year. Her Irish-American family keeps needling her about getting back into the dating world.

To that end, her well-meaning but overbearing older sister (Elizabeth Perkins) submits Sarah's profile to an Internet dating service. Meanwhile, their widowed dad (Christopher Plummer) is having no problem on the romantic front. Stockard Channing plays a brassy, New Age-y woman who is one of several who fall for the wise and winsome father.

The movie has a sluggish start but picks up as Sarah slogs through a series of deadbeat dates, some funny, some pathetic, who respond to the cyber-ad and high school photo provided by her sister. But the man she is drawn to is the separated father (Dermot Mulroney) of one of her students.

Then she meets Cusack, a builder of old-style wooden boats who comes across a little off-kilter and intense, yet strangely disarming. They go through the usual cycle of attraction, misunderstanding and reuniting that is the mainstay of romantic comedies.

Theirs is a match made in cinematic heaven, and it feels forced that she even hesitates about being with him. If not for the leads, who share chemistry and cheeky banter, audiences would feel as if they have seen this movie before.

Certainly, the premise of returning to dating after divorce is nothing new. And the supporting performances of Mulroney, Perkins and Plummer are winning.

Lane's character is dog-sitting an adorable black Newfoundland, but it's used essentially as a comic device. If you want to see Lane co-star with an endearing pooch in a heart-tugging movie, try My Dog Skip, which is not a chick flick but still a tearjerker.

About Must Love Dogs
Stars: Diane Lane, John Cusack, Dermot Mulroney, Christopher Plummer, Elizabeth Perkins, Stockard Channing
Director: Gary David Goldberg
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for sexual content