Welcome to Mooseport

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 04/20/04 13:42:29

"Welcome to TV land"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Welcome to Mooseport is set in a fantasy TV land. Life is a sitcom and all the faces are from television. Here’s Ray Romano, the star of Everybody Loves Raymond. Playing his girlfriend is Maura Tierney from E.R. There’s Christine Baranski - now wasn’t she on Cybill? This is a place where even child actors get a break. That’s Fred Savage from The Wonder Years, all of 20 years old now, playing a grown-up. Amidst all these television stars are a couple of bona fide movie actors. What Gene Hackman and Marcia Gay Harden are doing mixed up in this farrago is anyone’s guess, but I suppose even Oscar winners have to put food on the table.

Hackman is Monroe “Eagle” Cole, the most popular President in American history. He’s also the first to be divorced while still in office. That’s where Baranski - in a trademarked bitchy role - comes in. The ex-First Lady has seized the Baltimore residence in the divorce settlement. So Cole retires instead to their palatial holiday house at Mooseport, a small seaport town in Maine. Cole isn’t exactly thrilled to be in such close proximity to the local yokels, especially when he’s trying to secure multi-million dollar book deals and talk show engagements to come out tops in the divorce.

Matters worsen when Cole agrees to fill the ceremonial position of mayor. After an administrative mix-up, he finds his new role contested by local klutz hardware store owner Handy Harrison (Romano). Commitment scares Handy. He’s dated Mooseport veterinarian Sally Mannis (Tierney) for six years without realising she’s waiting for his marriage proposal. Hoping to prompt some attention from Handy, Sally accepts Cole’s invitation to go on a date. Soon Cole and Handy are competing for Sally’s affections and the town’s support in an increasingly heated mayoral campaign.

The screenplay by producer-writer Tom Schulman (Dead Poets Society) aspires to being a political comedy cum satire with a dash of romantic comedy. Mooseport falls short on every count.

As a comedy, Mooseport is agreeable rather than funny. The humour is in Doug Richardson’s story - Schulman hasn’t bothered to supplement it with enough wit or jokes. Mooseport also fails as political satire (if that is even what Schulman and Richardson intended) because it has no bite. As for romance, the female characters are pushed to the background too often for it to develop sufficiently. Mooseport reminded me a lot of last year’s The Honourable Wally Norman, another lacklustre satirical comedy about a political showdown between local underdog and conniving politician. These films are differentiated by the accents - the TV stars in Wally Norman were Australian rather than American.

That Mooseport induces an occasional chuckle is thanks to the relaxed charisma of Hackman and assured support from Harden as a committed Presidential aide. Tierney is a comfortable presence and adds life as the stereotypical feisty-woman love interest. By contrast, Romano contorts and fusses and constantly draws attention to himself as the hapless Handy. Judging from this limited exposure to him, Romano is an acquired taste that is best satisfied on the small screen. Savage is obviously angling for a part on The West Wing.

Director Donald Petrie also made Miss Congeniality. “Congenial” is the best descriptor I can muster for his efforts here. He doesn’t seem worked up about the material so it’s hard to feel involved. There’s no comic urgency and the film never changes pace or adds up to anything.

One word best sums up Welcome to Mooseport: mediocrity.

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