Ray Romano is given the lead role in comedy Welcome To Mooseport but doesn’t have the screen presence to make it work despite the dependable Gene Hackman by his side…
Everybody Loves Raymond writer and star Ray Romano makes his lead debut with Welcome To Mooseport, a couple of years after voicing Manfred in Fox’s brilliant Ice Age. Like his television character, here he plays just another everyman doing odd-jobs around the small, picturesque town of Mooseport. When beloved president Monroe Cole (Gene Hackman) sets up home in the town, the two men, through a series of unfortunate events go up against each other running for town mayor. It’s all light stuff staged around the bickering and counter-arguing between one of the most powerful men on earth and one of the most average of average Joes, and while it makes for some great moments every now and then, it’s so inconsistent the waiting between each laugh can seem like lifetimes are slipping away from you.
If ever there was a film that plagued the world with ennui, that sent cinema audiences to sleep and casual viewers sitting in their living rooms counting sheep for the sheer escapism, Welcome To Mooseport would be that movie. Despite the fact it does have its moments, Romano’s such a lifeless, apathetic actor it’s painful to watch him, almost like an ice-cream brain freeze that just won’t go away. Even Adam Sandler would be disappointed with this and we know how low he sets the bar! The film is cluttered with ‘nobody’ characters, and the ones that are supposed to be generically funny such as the foul-mouthed, quick-lipped old ladies are just stereotypical, unoriginal lifts from other, much better films.
Writer Tom Schulman is no hack, he’s done some admirable work in the past from Dead Poet’s Society to Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and I really enjoyed What About Bob? and 8 Heads In A Duffel Bag, but he’s leading man Romano lets him down with his tedious performance. Of course neither are helped by director Donald Petrie who couldn’t seemingly make a full-scale riot lively. Like much of his work, his films are magic eye paintings which you stare at for ages looking for that special something but it’s just not there. Yet the most amazing thing about Petrie’s film is how he stretches out such thin material to nearly two hours of ache, and since this is the most laughable thing about the film, it goes to show this comedy won’t be hanging around for very long in anyone’s consciousness.
Okay, so every cloud has a silver lining and while it is very thin and not very shiny, Welcome To Mooseport has some neat touches from Shulman’s script and the always dependable Gene Hackman. The national media’s response to the election sees the cameras and journalists descend on the small town and the news flashes make for some enjoyable viewing. The moment the president fails to woo Romano’s character Handy Harrison’s girlfriend, trying to go for the end-of-date kiss but getting a hand shake instead gets some post-date analysis in the news studio, the idea of media intrusion making for some nice little laughs. Also, the president not really getting to grips with the simplicity of normal life like when sorting out a date, “my people will talk to your people” to which he gets the reply, “why don’t I just give you my number”. Later telling his bodyguards to break his aid’s leg after he dared to criticise him, only to backtrack: “they do know I’m only kidding?”
But the best scene is when Handy Harrison and the president take their battle to the fairway for a game of golf. The fact the president thought he had a better handicap than he did, only to find out his aids put agents in the trees to help nudge any balls that might fly off course on their way towards the green, makes for an interesting game. But the point remains, every good bit features Hackman, and while his performance (which was sadly his last due to retirement) outshines anyone else, even he can’t save this film from lacklustre mediocrity.
Written by Daniel Stephens
Directed by: Donald Petrie
Written by: Tom Schulman
Starring: Ray Romano, Gene Hackman, Marcia Gay Harden, Maura Tierney
Released: 2004 / Genre: Comedy / Country: USA / IMDB