Diane Keaton in "Darling Companion."

Diane Keaton in "Darling Companion." Credit: Handout

It's rare enough to see older actors playing lead roles in the movies, but nearly a dozen of them are hitting theaters this weekend. In the British camp are Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and others in "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," opening today in Manhattan. The American entry, Lawrence Kasdan's comedy-drama "Darling Companion," is no slouch, either.

For starters, "Darling Companion" stars Diane Keaton, smart and fizzy as ever as Beth Winter, an empty-nester who grows a little too attached to a rescued dog named Freeway. Kevin Kline is her displeased husband, Joseph, a workaholic surgeon; Dianne Wiest plays his sister, Penny; Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor") is her rough-edged new beau, Russell.

You'd think the director of "The Big Chill" would make magic with this fantastic, over-60 ensemble, but instead he gives them little to do but bicker while searching for Freeway, who runs away from their vacation cabin in the Rockies. Kasdan co-wrote the film with his wife, Meg, and based it on their own experience losing a dog in the Rockies, which explains why the filmmakers seem so tickled by the story.

The youngish supporting characters, including Penny's wet-noodle son (Mark Duplass), a sexy local psychic (Ayelet Zurer) and the Winters' grumpy daughter (Elisabeth Moss), must be based on real people as well; that's the only possible explanation for writing such dullards into a script.

Irritating when not boring, "Darling Companion" almost qualifies as a sequel to "The Big Chill" in which the baby boomer characters have only grown wealthier and less interesting -- everyone seems to survive on red wine and charter-plane flights -- but that's giving this movie too much credit. At any rate, the dog had the right idea.

PLOT The loss of a pet dog strains a longtime marriage. RATING PG-13 (mild language, racy humor)

CAST Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins


PLAYING AT Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington; Malverne Cinema; and Manhasset Cinemas.

BOTTOM LINE The director of "The Big Chill" wastes a stellar ensemble in this boring, self-amused and unfunny comedy-drama.

(mild language, racy humor)

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