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With: Ray Romano, Gene Hackman, Maura Tierney, Marcia Gay Harden, Christine Baranski, Fred Savage, Rip Torn
Written by: Tom Schulman, based on a story by Doug Richardson
Directed by: Daniel Petrie
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some brief sexual comments and nudity
Running Time: 115
Date: 02/20/2004
IMDB

Welcome to Mooseport (2004)

1 Star (out of 4)

The 'Moose' Is Cooked

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Does everybody really love Raymond? TV star Ray Romano strikes me as the umpteen-thousandth recycling of Jackie Gleason in "The Honeymooners," a dimwitted sitcom-version of the American husband/dad, who is completely oblivious to his wife's feelings. He spends his time lying to her so that he can sneak out to play golf, and he's surprised and sheepish when he gets caught week after week. Why this simpleton appeals to anyone is a mystery to me. What's worse is that the filmmakers behind the new picture Welcome to Mooseport have mistakenly decided to preserve him, transplanting his TV persona whole onto the big screen.

Romano plays small town plumber 'Handy' Harrison, a man so unfunny and uninteresting that he names his dog Plunger. Handy is happy with his routine and his unchanged six-year relationship with his much smarter, stronger and more accomplished girlfriend Sally (Maura Tierney). Yet, somehow she has pinned all her hopes and desires on the slim chance that 'Handy' will pop the question. (In Handy's defense, she never tells him at any point that she wants to be married.)

No less than the former President of the United States, Monroe 'The Eagle' Cole (Gene Hackman) upends everything when he arrives in Mooseport, freshly divorced and hoping to retire in peace. Like the recent Chasing Liberty, Welcome to Mooseport keeps any potential political satire at arm's length. The movie articulates that President Cole is not meant to be Clinton, and he's definitely not meant to be G.W. Bush; while in office he was environmentally conscious and had high approval ratings. In other words, this is a president that exists entirely outside of reality.

The townspeople convince President Cole to run -- unchallenged -- for mayor, but he finds himself unexpectedly running against Handy. Moreover, President Cole asks Sally out on a date, and Sally, fed up with Handy's dragging feet, accepts. On top of all this, the film cooks up the notion that if President Cole loses the mayoral election, he will also lose his multi-million dollar book deal and lecture circuit -- as if suddenly everyone will lose interest in an American President if he fails to nab a Podunk political post.

The problem with this film begins with the bad screenplay by Tom Schulman (Dead Poets Society), an Oscar winner who inexplicably beat out Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, Spike Lee and Steven Soderbergh in 1989 and went on to write such rubbish as Holy Man. Schulman can't give us a good reason why Sally should give a hoot about Handy or who this American President really is in terms of history.

In an effort to create a small town feeling, he tosses off a half dozen kooky yokel characters, including a naked jogger, foul-mouthed old ladies and a sexy dumb blonde named Mandy (Reagan Pasternak) who has a crush on Handy. Handy and Mandy were clearly meant for each other, but Schulman denies his movie this far more satisfying twist. He also employs what G.W. would call "fuzzy math" -- as well as flat-out lying -- for the climactic election results, with absolutely no intended or implied reference to Florida.

It doesn't help that director Daniel Petrie (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) deadens any possible momentum or energy; he can't even make one of our greatest actors, Gene Hackman, appear presidential. The whole movie just deflates and plummets over the course of a very long 100 minutes without a single grin, smile or laugh.

A capable supporting cast tries to help. Current Oscar nominee Marcia Gay Harden plays Grace Sutherland, President Cole's executive secretary who has a crush on her boss; Fred Savage plays President Cole's upwardly mobile PR director, Rip Torn his campaign manager and Christine Baranski his shrewish ex-wife. The best scene comes during a golf game in which the President and Handy play for the honor of Sally's hand. Sally and Grace watch from the clubhouse, disgusted, and begin drinking heavily.

What's so remarkable about Welcome to Mooseport is not that this excellent cast outshines Romano -- that's to be expected -- but that everyone seems to be sleepwalking, each cast member working only for the paycheck. If I could have voted in Mooseport's election, I might have chosen President Cole, but more likely I would have stayed home out of pure apathy.

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