Welcome to Mooseport

Reviewed By Collin Souter
Posted 02/20/04 00:13:35

"Friendly faces everywhere, humble folks without temptation..."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Can you really make a nice movie about politics that will work? When dealing with the subject of politicians, be it big time charlatan or small town simpleton, can you really work a successful and funny comedy around them and never once scratch the surface of satire? I believe that anything is possible, but the makers of “Welcome to Mooseport” have yet to convince me that the formula can work. The movie, while pleasant, just doesn’t have the courage necessary to make a political comedy that seems relevant for our times. I never believed that every movie about a politician had to be a satire, but after watching the lame “Mooseport,” I feel I may have been wrong. It just doesn’t work.

Mooseport, in case you didn’t see the trailer or figure out from the title, is one of those small communal towns where everyone in the town square knows everyone else, almost like Stars Hollow on TV’s “Gilmore Girls” (the only TV show I watch religiously). Mooseport has the usual lot of eccentric locals, most of whom we see working at a hardware store run by Handy Harrison (Ray Romano). Handy has always been well-liked by his fellow townsfolk and has even fancied the notion of running for Mayor. His girlfriend of six years, Sally (Maura Tierny), tries to convince him to put his name on the ballot.

Along comes former President of the United States and divorcee, Monroe Cole (Gene Hackman), who returns to his hometown of Mooseport and ends up asking Sally out on a date. Out of frustration for Handy’s reluctance to take any risks with his life, she accepts, prompting Handy to finally put his name on the ballot for Mayor. Problem: Former President Cole has also put his name on the Mayoral ballot. Who will win? The big-time high-profile man with experience or the do-gooder, honest simpleton who just lost his girlfriend? And, yes, who will get the girl?

The most biting, scathing thing “Mooseport” has to say about Cole is that he can’t play golf to save his life. When the campaigning and fighting reach a peak, the two politicians agree to a game of golf where Handy discovers Cole’s handicap. Other than that, the movie plods along from one conventional plot line to the next. Eventually, Cole’s assistant Grace (Marcia Gay Harden) comes clean of her true feelings for Cole, whose ex-wife Charlotte (Christine Baranski playing yet another snooty WASP) shows up to help out with Handy’s campaign out of spite.

The movie will no doubt gain notice because it marks Ray Romano’s first major starring role in a movie. I have never seen his TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Never once. I have always heard good things about it and I believe it has won an Emmy or two. He’s likable, but I’m not sure how much longevity his career will allow for a big-screen transition. I’m aware of his background as a comedian, but as an actor I’m not sure how far he can really go. Perhaps this movie doesn’t allow him to break beyond the conventional barriers of a seemingly tired plot, so it may be too soon to say whether he has the ability to go after better scripts (can’t be worse than Tim Allen, right? Right!?!)

As for Hackman, he’s clearly cashing a nice check for this one. I would never deny Hackman’s status as legend amongst the great screen actors of our time, but sometimes you just gotta wonder if he’s just trying to win some world record for the number of movies in which a man can be featured in a given lifetime. “Welcome To Mooseport” doesn’t fall in the same category of bad as, say, “Loose Cannons” (God help us all), but you have to wonder how the same mind that committed so fully to the beauty of “The Royal Tenenbaums” can also agree to a no-brainer better suited for someone like Dan Aykroyd.

Other than reiterating its lack of bite, sting or zeal, there’s really not much more to say about “Welcome To Mooseport” except that it’s there and you can see it. You probably won’t rush out to see it. You might rent it when it comes out on video and your local store stocks only one shelf’s worth (half tape, half DVD). You’ll see it and think, “Oh, yeah, I remember seeing the ads for that. Let’s hang onto it and see if there’s anything better.” You’ll watch it, fall asleep towards the end and remember to bring it back the next day. End of story. Not very exciting, huh?

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