Hackman dominates as Mooseport passes to the left
By Wes Bennett
Herald film critic
When I first saw the previews for “Welcome To Mooseport,” it seemed like a film that could have been either really good or really bad. On one hand, since 1996, Ray Romano had chosen not to star in a feature film despite the incredible success of his sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond.” His annual salary is a reported $40 million, so one would assume that there would be no reason for him to star in a movie, unless it was very good.
Screenwriter Tom Schulman was responsible for “Dead Poet’s Society” and the enjoyable Bill Murray vehicle, “What About Bob?” But he also wrote the sub-par “Holy Man” and “8 Heads in a Duffel Bag” and director Donald Petrie had created “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”
Co-leading man Gene Hackman recently had a superb comedic performance in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and perhaps most importantly, the premise of this film seemed to offer at least the potential for an amusing story line.
Mooseport is a picturesque small town by the sea in Maine, where popular two-term President Monroe “Eagle” Cole (Hackman) has decided to retire so his vicious, ex-wife (Christine Baranski) can’t get her greedy hands on their vacation home, which he plans to establish as his primary residence.
Before he can choose among the lucrative offers for memoirs and speaking engagements, the village elders enlist him to fill the void left by their recently deceased mayor.
Unknown to Cole, Handy Harrison (Romano), the beloved owner of the local hardware store has also decided to enter the race. When Cole starts hitting on his girlfriend Sally (“ER’s” Maura Tierney), the campaign becomes a symbolic testosterone contest for both the mayoralty and the girl.
As the race progresses, the president’s assortment of aides and Secret Service men, including Marcia Gay Harden (“Mystic River”), Fred Savage (“The Wonder Years”) and campaign manager Rip Torn (“Men In Black II”), begin to get increasingly concerned. If Cole loses this minor election, it could seriously damage both his credibility and image.
Since there are no real issues, the election is quickly reduced to a competition to get Sally’s attention, between two guys who are not that charming or handsome. Even worse, she doesn’t seem all that interested in either of them. In fact, since Sally’s character is on the thin side, we never really have a good idea of what she wants.
Hackman, on the other hand, is superb. In his second outing playing a president (“Absolute Power”) he is able to skillfully balance the strengths and weaknesses of his character. Unfortunately, “Mooseport” is much closer to “Heartbreakers” than the better material he had in the past, such as “Get Shorty,” and there’s only so much he can do.
Hackman is so authoritative that he seems to overshadow the leading man. Romano doesn’t seem to have what it takes to be an icon of the cinema. Although he’s playing a very similar character to the low-key everyday man he does on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” in “Mooseport” he leaves the audience wanting a stronger, more charismatic figure. Whether it is the script or the character, Romano spends most of the movie trying to find a way to make his feeble persona more affable and his dialogue more funny.
This is not a negative reflection on Romano as a comedian. It defies reason as to why television stars such as Helen Hunt or Woody Harrelson were successful in films, but Bill Cosby, Ted Danson and Tom Selleck largely failed.
Ultimately “Mooseport” fails to be anything more than a very mediocre film. The premise could have been a clever idea for a political satire, but the film is too inconsistent to make any sort of clever or insightful observations and too restrained and conservative to get any major laughs.