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Pooches Rule Premiere of 'Must Love Dogs'

This premiere's arrivals-line carpet looked suspiciously like Astroturf — that artificial and, perhaps more importantly, easy-to-clean grass-like material.

Good thing, as the human stars of "Must Love Dogs" (search) were preceded by a parade of pampered pooches.

The pets mainly pouted and panted during a hot and humid Thursday evening. And when the actors finally made the scene at Hollywood's Cinerama Theatre, it's doubtful that fewer were happier than the melting mutts.

Based on Claire Cook's best-selling romantic-comedy novel, "Must Love Dogs" (search) follows Sarah, a recent divorcee, played by Diane Lane (search), who is plunged into the world of personal ads and dating.

Eventually, she stumbles across another reluctant romantic — John Cusack (search) — who just may be Mr. Right. Both of their ads, by the way, end with the words, "must love dogs."

Lane, glamorous in a candy-striped Ralph Lauren dress, told AP Television News that the film is ultimately about "recovering from a broken heart and also it's bucking up against cynicism with comedy. It's easy to become cynical when your heart is broken and you have to grow a sense of humor to deflect these negative self images."

Forcing Sarah back into circulation is a lovingly meddling sister, Carol, played by Elizabeth Perkins (search), who places an Internet personal ad on Sarah's behalf, but without her knowledge.

"(Carol) really does have the best intentions when she signs her up," commented Perkins, the character actress soon to be seen opposite Mary Louise Parker in Showtime's new series, "Weeds."

"But a piece of advice for everyone," Perkins continued, "never put anyone other than yourself online. It's a really dangerous proposition."

Besides Lane and Perkins, most of the film's other top-billed stars were nowhere to be found.

Fortunately, Cook arrived early and stayed with the media to the end, charming reporters with her wit, wisdom and bona fide enthusiasm.

The author said she was proud of the film, but acknowledged it's a different work from her own, and warned that fans of the novel should brace themselves for some key plot changes.

"They kind of opened it up by adding all of the perfectmatch.com stuff, which I think works beautifully," Cook noted. "It's much more visual.

"And, oh, (director Gary Goldberg) changed the dog! Can you imagine? Mother Theresa (the dog Sarah borrows for her date) is a Saint Bernard in the book, which is kind of a visual joke, I guess — a Catholic joke."

But in the movie, Theresa is a Newfoundland — "because Gary loves newfies," Cook explained. "I think he has every right to pick the dog. I would have been happy if it was a possum, you know?"

The Oscar-nominated Lane, 40, has made few comedies in her 25-year career, but said she couldn't resist the chance to work with Goldberg, whose credits include the sitcoms "Family Ties" and "Spin City."

"He has a lot of fabulous comedy history," Lane said. "I mean, he knows his material and when he believed that I could do it, I said, 'Maybe he's right, because he ought to know.'"