Welcome to Mooseport (2004) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 110 min.

Cast: Gene Hackman, Ray Romano, Maura Tierney, Marcia Gay Harden, Christine Baranski, Rip Torn, Fred Savage
Director: Danny DeVito

Screenplay: David Mamet
Review published May 30, 2004

Falling into the realm of "cute, but no cigar" is Welcome to Mooseport, a likeable but not very inspired comedy that has little going for it except to ride on the charm of its portrayal of eccentric small-town life.  The premise is amusing, but strictly sit-com material, and when padded out to almost two hours, the slightness of the proceedings brings out its many flaws.  Hackman (Unforgiven, Crimson Tide) is always appealing, even in a bad film, but he deserves to play against someone more formidable than comedian Ray Romano (of TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond"), who exhibits little screen presence or tangible personality in his debut motion picture role.  Like the casting, the rest of the film seems to also have been cobbled together in haste, leaving us with a quaint political satire and romantic comedy that can never manage to generate enough chemistry to make it soar above the feeble storyline.

This storyline follows divorced former President of the United States, Monroe Eagle Cole (Hackman), the most popular president since Jack Kennedy, who decides to settle in his vacation residence of Mooseport, a small town in New England.  A consummate political animal, he decides to run for mayor to impress local beauty, Sally (Tierney, Liar Liar), not realizing that she is the frustrated girlfriend of his opponent, Handy Harrison (Romano), the local handyman who fixes Cole's toilets.  Handy initially consents to step out of the race, but when the competition heats up for Sally's affections, he decides that all's fair in love and politics, making things embarrassingly close for the one of the most influential people in the world.

Welcome to Mooseport is a mostly flaccid affair made by people who have spent a career making such things.  Director Donald Petrie (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Miss Congeniality) comes from a school of thought that says to make an effective comedy, all one has to do is just give the essence of a plot, then fill up the remaining screen time with loveably kooky characters doing cutesy things as much as possible.  The screenplay is by Tom Schulman (Dead Poets Society, Holy Man), who penned a similar film about a big-shot getting his comeuppance in a small vacation town at the hands of a less-powerful everyman in What About Bob?, but there's no Bill Murray here to save the day.  There's only Ray Romano, who is perhaps the most inadequate romantic lead one might imagine, showing little range of emotion and even less charisma.

For all of its bad points, I did enjoy Hackman's comic performance, who is the only actor here that seems to understand the limitations of the role enough to play it just right.  I don't always notice the cinematography in comedies, but Victor Hammer's (Billy Madison, Major League II) rich shots of the community are especially good here, The rest of the cast are portrayed in typical dumb comedy fashion, with the exception of Tierney in an ineffectual, underdeveloped role as the main prize in the tug-of-war between the two men.  It's vacuous bit innocuous, so before you take a trip to Mooseport, make sure you expect little save for an sparsely amusing situational comedy that mistakenly was made into a major motion picture release.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo