Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 20, 2004)
Many TV stars try to make the leap to the big screen, but few succeed. The latest victim: Ray Romano, famous for the very popular Everybody Loves Raymond series. Apparently not enough people love Romano to earn him cinematic success. His first starring effort in 2004’s Welcome to Mooseport landed with a massive thud and only earned $14 million.
Romano plays Handy Harrison, a plumber and hardware store owner in small Mooseport, Maine. He maintains a long-term relationship with Sally (Maura Tierney) who grows tired of waiting for him to propose.
The whole town’s atwitter because popular ex-president Monroe “Eagle” Cole (Gene Hackman) moves to Mooseport. He lost his house in Baltimore through his nasty divorce from Charlotte (Christine Baranski). We learn that he’s used to getting what he wants, as his staff incessantly spoils him.
When the town’s mayor dies unexpectedly, the local elders beseech Eagle to run for the job. He initially shows disinterest, but when Sally states he should do it, Eagle agrees to go for it. You see, Eagle saw her in the crowd and immediately become smitten by the lovely veterinarian.
While the local leaders celebrate his declaration, they discover a fly in the ointment: it turns out someone else convinced Handy to run as well. What Eagle first envisioned as a public relations boon becomes negative, as it looks like others while view the contest as a David and Goliath situation.
Eagle feels he can’t withdraw because he gave his word and won’t break it. Handy agrees to bow out gracefully but changes his mind when he sees some sparks ignite between Eagle and Sally. It appears that Sally embraces Eagle’s attention mainly to snipe at Handy, so he decides to stay in the race as a reaction to this threat.
Eagle quickly gets embroiled in a PR nightmare. He learns about the romantic status of Handy and Sally, which embarrasses him. Matters don’t improve when the national media focuses on this silly race and it turns out that early polls put the race neck and neck.
The rest of the movie follows the dual plot lines. We watch the competition between Eagle and Handy for mayor as well as for Sally. Complications ensue when Charlotte comes to town to make Eagle’s life difficult, and we also see that Eagle’s long-time aide Grace (Marcia Gay Harden) feels ignored even though she clearly maintains a crush on the ex-pres.
Mooseport declares what kind of flick it’ll be from virtually minute one. The film’s opening shows an elderly naked jogger as he flops through town. No one reacts to this obviously everyday occurrence, and it tells us quickly that Mooseport will be a quirky burg with colorful characters. It’s the kind of place that exists only in movies or TV, and it seems pretty lame.
The movie starts off very weakly, as the early jokes focus on toilet gags and humping dogs. It does start to improve as it progresses, though, largely on the strength of the performers. The flick undeniably presents a very strong cast. With two Oscar-winners and a roster of other stalwarts, one can’t fault the casting director for the movie’s case of the blahs.
Or maybe we can, as none of them stand out too strongly. Hackman particularly seems somewhat drab. He mostly looks bored and goes into the role on cruise control. Romano also comes across very low-key, though a lot of that seems to connect to his normal personality.
Probably the best work stems from Harden’s turn as Grace. She doesn’t get much of a role, but she brings a nice sense of humanity and depth to a part that otherwise could be little more than a lovestruck priss. It doesn’t hurt that Harden’s becoming more attractive as she ages; I used to find her somewhat off-putting, but she’s gradually turned rather lovely.
Much of the problem with Mooseport stems simply from its general blandness. It offers an intriguing concept with a solid cast, but the overall execution seems drab. It also runs way too long. It pushes the two-hour mark, which appears excessive for a light romantic comedy.
After a weak start, Welcome to Mooseport does turn into a mildly amusing piece. However, it doesn’t rise above that level, as it stays consistently unexceptional. Despite a lot of good talent in front of the camera, it can’t become a lively and engaging flick, as it generally seems watchable at best.