Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
After completing a second term in office, President of the United
States Monroe 'Eagle' Cole (Gene Hackman) returns to his sleepy summer
home of Mooseport, Maine to prepare his next move. With his power-hungry
ex-wife, Charlotte (Christine Baranski), demanding his money and material
possessions, Monroe is ultimately egged on to run for mayor of Mooseport
as a way of confirming his political worth. Following Monroe's advances
on veterinarian Sally (Maura Tierney), however, he soon acquires an
unlikely opponent: Sally's nice guy plumber boyfriend, Handy Harrison (Ray Romano).
Directed by Donald Petrie (2003's "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days"),
"Welcome to Mooseport" wants to be a quirky political satire, something
of a cross between 1999's "Election" and 2000's "State and Main,"
but it lacks a sharp satiric edge. In fact, its would-be satire isn't
satire at all, but unfunny slapstick and one-liners mixed with a sitcom-level
sensibility. In other words, it's a dumbed-down small screen venture
dressed in fancy feature film clothing and featuring a sparkling ensemble
far better than the material deserves.
While "Welcome to Mooseport" is consistently watchable, it doesn't
have that extra spark req uired to make it anything but instantly
forgettable. The comedy comes in two varietiesólow-key and broadóbut
most of it is disposably corny and not worth more than a nod of recognition
or a smile. The amount of laugh-out-loud moments could be counted
on a two-fingered hand, and even those couple are fleeting at best.
As for the plight of Handy to win back longtime girlfriend Sally,
who has grown frustrated by his failure to pop the question, it is
difficult to get behind a man as daft as him. Throughout, the viewer
is led to wonder exactly why he can't understand that she wants to
get married. When the epiphany belatedly arrives, Handy's reasoning
for not having the courage to ask Sally to marry him is tacky: he's scared.
The cast, at least, is game enough to make for a marginally amusing
time. For Gene Hackman, his part of Monroe Cole is an undemanding
one, but he is effortless in his portrayal. Hackman was given far
funnier material in 2001's superior "Heartbreakers," but he does bless
Monroe with a level of sympathy. Monroe is a man who prides himself
on being a truly honest president, even when in reality he isn't entirely,
and this quandary is made palpable thanks to Hackman's portrayal.
In his film debut, "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Ray Romano is within
his comfort zone as Handy, but because he is the straight man he is
given few chances to show off his comic persona.
As the ever-torn Sally, Maura Tierney (2002's "Insomnia") is charming
enough in the role of the romantic foil, while the incomparable Marcia
Gay Harden (2003's "Mystic River") refuses to be underused by bringing
depth and likability to Monroe's committed assistant, Grace. Rounding
out the ensemble, Fred Savage (2002's "The Rules of Attraction") is
Bullard, Monroe's harried other assistant, and Christine Baranski
(2003's "Marci X") is typecast as the President's "Wicked Witch of
the West Wing" ex-wife, Charlotte.
For the most part, "Welcome to Mooseport" is so laid-back that whatever
driving energy it might have had proves insubstantial in the final
cut. The whole movie is like that. With a plodding story and a just-okay
screenplay by Tom Schulman (1998's "Holy Man"), nothing on display
is worth the trip to the theater. Having only seen "Welcome to Mooseport"
eight hours ago (and immediately before a screening of the amazing
and surprising best film of the year so far, "The Girl Next Door"),
it has already begun to drift from my memory.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman