February 26, 2004

Welcome to Mooseport

Print More

When you first heard of Welcome To Mooseport, I bet it never even occurred to you to associate it with phrases along the lines of “edgy and evocative” or “pushing the envelope.” Well, you were right. Mooseport is none of those things and like most safe films, remains predictable, reassuring, and plays out exactly like you would think.

The most popular president since John F. Kennedy, former president Monroe “The Eagle” Cole (Gene Hackman) moves to Mooseport, Maine after his ex-wife Charlotte (Christine Baranski) took the better half of the couple’s shared belongings preceding a nasty divorce settlement. President Cole is coerced into running for mayor and finds his match in Handy Harrison (Ray Romano), the owner of the local hardware store. Politics aside, the former president also seems to have taken a liking to local vet Sally (Maura Tierney), who just happens to be Handy’s girlfriend.

Mooseport is extremely formulaic in plot because it attempts to market two hours of a film based on an ongoing gag of anachronisms between small towns and world affairs. We laugh as President Cole calls in the FBI to “check out” Handy or apply big-time political strategies to the small-town mayoral race. Although humorous at first, the countinuous dependency on the same joke becomes tiring with time. Fabrication plays a big role in Mooseport and often times, comedy sequences are blatantly “set up,” leaving little room for surprises or fresh laughs.

Far from being an original creation, Mooseport is the latest result of a recent “small town” fetish that the media seems to have developed. From Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s farmhouse antics on The Simple Life to Kate Bosworth’s “gee whiz!” optimism on Win a Date With Tad Hamilton, green acres certainly does seem to the place to be. Idealized country life is manifested in Mooseport through woodsy landscapes and tranquil lakes. It seems too ironic that the movie was actually filmed in Canada.

If tame comedy is what you’re looking for, Mooseport certainly does deliver. The recycled David versus Goliath premise is merely a plot device to force interaction between Mooseport’s spectacular cast. With Hackman as the former president, Romano as the self-deprecating everyman, and Tierney as the down-to-earth romantic interest, Mooseport has every one of its actors portraying the types of characters they know best.

Aside from the powerful trio of leading players, the story is further improved by its colorful cast of stock characters, familiar faces that no successful comedy dares to lack. Traditional town citizens like the feisty old woman, the cantankerous old man, or the spacey town goof-off all make appearances. President Cole brings his own band of cohorts, from the stoic secret service agents to the devoted personal assistants.

By all means, the movie should sizzle, except that it doesn’t. Hackman and Romano make an interesting duo in principle, although their partnership, much like the movie’s premise, turns out to be bland and unspectacular. Both President Cole and Handy are written as men too often coerced by others, a move that undermines the potential charisma of both characters. In the end, it is Rip Torn, who plays a longtime campaign advisor, who steals the show. Torn is morally ambiguous yet likeable, far outshining his co-stars.

Tierney as the beleaguered woman caught between the two leading men is forced into a stereotypical role. Sally ends up being merely another point of contestation between President Cole and Handy, an object to be argued over rather than a fleshed out character. This lack of strong female characters is further exemplified through Grace (Marcia Gay Harden), President Cole’s underappreciated assistant, who, although determined, still seems to exist only for his sake.

Proof of the consequences of playing it safe, Mooseport proves following the formula will not necessarily lead to success. The film lacks a point, as it is neither an affirmation for country living, nor is it a statement against questionable political tactics. A film with no hidden message and mildly humorous dialogue that drags on for half an hour too long, Mooseport is at most, a pleasant yet forgettable distraction.

Archived article by Tracy Zhang