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Dustin Putman

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Welcome To Mooseport (2004)
2 Stars

Directed by Donald Petrie
Cast: Ray Romano, Gene Hackman, Maura Tierney, Marcia Gay Harden, Fred Savage, Christine Baranski, Rip Torn, June Squibb, Wayne Robson, Jessica Holmes, John Rothman, Jackie Richardson, Reagan Pasternak, Karl Pruner, David Macniven, Paul Bates, Jim Feather, Philip Williams, Ed Fielding
2004 – 115 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for brief sexual references and nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 21, 2004.

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 required to make it anything but instantly forgettable. The comedy comes in two varieties—low-key and broad—but 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.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman