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WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT

SYNOPSIS:
Former US President Monroe "The Eagle" Cole (Gene Hackman) retires in the sleepy town of Mooseport, Maine. The most popular President in US history (and the only one to have been divorced while in office), Cole is invited to run for the suddenly vacant position of Mayor. On the assurance of an uncontested election and knowing the position will enable him to overcome a crippling divorce settlement with Charlotte (Christine Baranski), Cole agrees. But at the last moment, hardware shop owner "Handy" Harrison (Ray Romano) decides to run against Cole. When Cole makes romantic moves on Harrison's longtime but frustrated fiancé Sally (Maura Tiernney), the contest becomes personal.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
With the real-life campaign to elect the next US President gearing up, Welcome To Mooseport at least has good timing on its side. It also has the priceless presence of Gene Hackman to lift a screenplay that fails to make the most out of an idea that should have been a sure-shot for non-stop laughs. Like De Niro a few years ago, Hackman has decided there's nothing left to prove except his comic ability and with this item and The Royal Tenenbaums to his credit, he's mounting a convincing case.

Monroe Cole is a preposterous character (wait 20 years and probably won't be), yet Hackman still manages to make "The Eagle" believable enough for us to go along with the David versus Goliath premise. He's in cracking form, whether strutting around the golf course while flunkies throw his mishits out of the woods and back on to the fairway or responding to the late entry of Handy Harrison with "you mean I'm up against the man who fixed my toilet".

Maura Tierney is terrific here also. She played a similarly suffering spouse in Liar Liar and exudes warmth in every scene she's in. So much so that it's a little hard to accept this delightful woman has been engaged to the honest but rather dim Handy (Ray Romano) for seven years without ankling for a better prospect. Romano is the weak link. The star of Everybody Loves Raymond on TV looks comfortable in his hardware store but he's decidedly ill-at ease essaying more complex emotions in his romantic scenes with Tierney.

Marcia Gay Harden is always welcome and gives her nothing role as Cole's right-hand woman better than it deserves and the magnificent Rip Torn chimes in nicely as a hot-shot campaign organiser drafted into action when the local boy looks like he might make good.

Welcome to Mooseport is effortless entertainment and has enough chuckles to get by but the opportunity to go for the political jugular has been passed up. One can imagine how much sharper this might have been with, say, the Zucker treatment. Donald Petrie takes the same relaxed approach as he did with Grumpy Old Men and the results are similarly pleasing without ever threatening to inflict serious damage on the funny bone.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Trying to be all things to all comedic people is a recipe for less laughs ... that's an old saying I just made up to fit Welcome to Mooseport, which manages to miss just about every strike point on its way to lameness. The core premise is workable for either broad comedy or deadpan comedy or dramatic comedy and especially political satire, but neither the script nor the execution can quite work the premise to satisfy on any of those criteria.

Gene Hackman does his decent best to tame the dramatic comedy role of Monroe and is always credible, which makes some of the broad comedy characters around him (eg Morris the town's organiser) seem absurdly out of whack. Ray Romano fails to ignite as Hackman's opposite, fiddling with his lines as if he were in a sitcom where the screen is small and our expectations are none too high as we lounge on the lounge.

The flaw is in the casting, which drives the character of Handy. But both Maura Tierney as his girl and Marcia Gay Harden as retired President Cole's private secretary are warm, real and satisfying, playing in the same movie as Hackman. The others are on a different set. They don't push for laughs, and director Donald Petrie seems to know what to do with them. Or they do it instinctively...

But with Romano's character, we sense no real risk; his emotional flatlining removes the tension. But that's true for the screenplay itself, which only touches on pathos in the relationship between and Monroe and Marcia Gay Harden's Grace. There is little that touches us, and the ripples of laughter stay on the surface.

I wish it was funnier or sharper or more bizarre, but it plays rather like a limp, plastic wrapped sausage from predigested offcuts - with flavour enhancers.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

GENE HACKMAN INTERVIEW

WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT (PG)
(US)

CAST: Gene Hackman, Ray Romano, Marcia Gay Harden, Maura Tierney, Christine Baranski, Fred Savage, Rip Torn, June Squibb

PRODUCER: Marc Frydman, Basil Iwanyk, Tom Schulman

DIRECTOR: Donald Petrie

SCRIPT: Tom Schulman (story by Doug Richardson)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Victor Hammer

EDITOR: Debra Neil-Fisher

MUSIC: John Debney

PRODUCTION DESIGN: David Chapman

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 29, 2004

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: August 25, 2004







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