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Welcome to Mooseport (2004) Print E-mail
Friday, 20 February 2004
We also meet Handy Harrison (Ray Romano), a nice but indecisive guy; a lifelong resident of Mooseport, he runs the local hardware store and works as a handyman and plumber. He’s been engaged to Sally (Maura Tierney) for six years, but doesn’t show any sign of actually marrying her yet.

The town fathers of Mooseport approach Cole: the local mayor has just died, and they want to appoint him to the office. This would be useful to Cole because it would establish his beautiful Mooseport house as his prime residence; the mostly-ceremonial post of mayor would not occupy much of his time. But unaware of this offer to Cole, Handy has also decided to run for mayor.

When he finds out Cole has been offered the job, Handy at first tries to back out, but changes his mind. Cole also wants to get out of the affair – it’s becoming more complicated than he expected – but his advisors assure him that in terms of his public image, he now has to run for office. And win. How would it look for an ex-president to lose a little local election? So he enlists the help of Bert Langdon (a colorful Rip Torn), his long-time campaign manager.

There are other complications. Cole is attracted to Sally, which annoys Handy enough so that he becomes determined to whip the president at the polls. For his part, Cole doesn’t notice that Grace is more than half in love with him.

This setup takes rather too long to play itself out. It’s sprinkled with a few amusing ideas – Cole wants his presidential library to be bigger than Clinton’s – but none of them reveal which party Cole is affiliated with. (He might be a Democrat because he’s proud of his environmental activities, but you never can tell.) This is another example of the cautious approach the film takes: wouldn’t it have been more amusing if in addition to being rivals for the office and potential rivals for Sally, the two men had been of different parties? But no, can’t shake up the audience.

The movie was developed from a screen story by Doug Richardson, also a writer on “Die Hard 2,” “Bad Boys” and “Money Train.” “Welcome to Mooseport” represents a radical change in style of film for Richardson, though not a radical improvement. The final script was by the erratic Tom Schulman; he’s contributed to movies as good as “What About Bob?” and “Dead Poets Society,” but also to bland fare like “Medicine Man” and “Holy Man,” and the hopeless “8 Heads in a Duffel Bag.”

Director Donald Petrie has rarely shown any flair or style; his other movies include “Mystic Pizza,” “Grumpy Old Men,” “Richie Rich” and the dismal “My Favorite Martian.” The best movie in his past is “Miss Congeniality,” which traded successfully on the appeal of Sandra Bullock.
And “Welcome to Mooseport” does get some mileage out of its cast (which includes an unbilled Edward Herrmann). Hackman is always welcome and fun to watch, but he doesn’t bring enough ginger to his role of the affable ex-president. This is Romano’s first movie as an actor; everyone seems to be very cautious about asking him to stretch at all, since Handy is very similar to his role on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” But he’s agreeable enough, and the two leads clearly enjoy working together.

I must have seen Maura Tierney before, but I have no clear memory of having done so. I will remember her from “Welcome to Mooseport,” however—she’s very good as the patient Sally (apparently a veterinarian). She’s wry, sardonic and emotional in an understated, controlled manner.

The best of the secondary players is the frosty, wry Christine Baranski, one of the best eyebrow-archers and lip-curlers since the demise of Vincent Price. Marcia Gay Harden isn’t given enough to do, but she does let us know what Grace really thinks of Cole long before her act-three big speech. Rip Torn is also great from his first line (“It’s deader’n Nixon down here”) to his last, and could have been used more.

But the local residents are singularly uninteresting; they’re just a busload of stereotypes rather than characters, and a movie like this depends on vivid characters. There’s an old man who shouts a lot, but this is used only as punctuation, not characterization. There’s even a baby moose (named, of course, Bruce), and he isn’t used very much, or very well, either.

The movie seems overly concerned with, of all things, golf. For years, unknown to Cole, his Secret Service agents and others have cheated on his behalf; he’s prone to hooks and slices, and has been happy that his balls always mysteriously bounce back onto the green. When he and Handy square off in a golf match (distastefully, the winner has the right to court Sally), Cole has to rely on his own wobbly skills. Does this sound engrossing? It’s certainly not, feeling like something left over from an earlier conception of the script. It takes up way too much of the running time.

Though set in Maine, like many mid-level studio films today, this was shot mostly in small Canadian towns. But production designer David Chapman doesn’t create a sense of a real, limited space. It looks like what it is: a main street shot in one town, houses in another, the seashore in yet another. It simply does not hang together.

When Handy visits Sally, he usually removes a key from a frog figurine on her front porch. She becomes annoyed with him, so he finds no key. “The frog is empty!” he exclaims. So is the movie. It’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s not really very much of anything.

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