Welcome to Mooseport
TV comedy king Ray Romano makes his first foray into feature film in a spectacularly unfunny comedy.
Mooseport is an idyllic little Maine town populated with equally idyllic folk, including Handy Harrison (Romano), who owns the local hardware store, and his veterinarian girlfriend of six years, Sally (Maura Tierney). But Mooseport is also the vacation home of the former president of the United States, Monroe ''Eagle'' Cole (Gene Hackman), who, after two successful terms in office, decides the sleepy community would be a great place to quietly live out the rest of his days. But the people of Mooseport delay the president's retirement when they convince him to run for Mayor, which doesn't sit well with Handy. Unbeknownst to the town council, he's also put in a bid for mayoral candidacy. Certain he could never beat the former president in an election, Handy nearly backs down--but when the ex-prez makes a move on Sally, unaware she is Handy's significant other, he decides to stay in the races for both mayor and boyfriend. Regrettably, it might be too late for the latter, since Sally resents Handy's commitment phobia, and has accepted a date with the president in retribution. Oh, but who will she choose? The campaign gets thorny when Eagle's ex-wife Charlotte (Christine Baranski) arrives in town to help with Handy's campaign, and the president's chief advisor of 15 years, Grace (Marcia Gay Harden), discloses she has feelings for him.
All eyes are on Romano, known to TV viewers since 1996 for his portrayal of New York City sportswriter and father of three Ray Barone on the CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. Welcome to Mooseport is Romano's big-screen acting debut, and he does a fine job shedding his popular television persona for that of a small-town handyman. But while Romano successfully crafts a character devoid of any Barone family attributes, that character Handy is as one-dimensional as a blank script sheet. His love interest in the film, played by Tierney (ER's nurse Abby Lockhart), gets fleshed out a little more and--unlike Handy--her character actually shows thoughts and feelings. A dedicated veterinarian, Sally is a tough and outspoken woman with a heart of gold, and she's impossible to dislike. More engaging is the relationship between Hackman and Harden, two veteran actors who make the most of their cookie-cutter roles. As the charismatic onetime leader of the free world, Hackman does his best Bill Clinton, while Harden seemed more inspired by Condoleezza Rice, a consummate professional and the president's indispensable right-hand woman. Welcome to Mooseport doesn't tap into its supporting talents as well: Baranski as the president's ex-wife and Fred Savage as his fresh-faced PR director deliver the film's rare laugh-out-loud moments, but they're brought in for a couple of zingers and then left out to dry.
Donald Petrie, who made his directorial debut in 1988 with the Julia Roberts starrer Mystic Pizza, has a flair for helming fluffy comedies that succeed because of their star power rather than their stories (read: 1993's Grumpy Old Men starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Ann-Margret; Sandra Bullock's 2000 comedy Miss Congeniality; and last year's How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days with Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey). Now, Petrie can add Welcome to Mooseport to the list. Although scribe Tom Schulman's (Dead Poets Society) screenplay is pretty imaginative, his characters are unexciting and too goody-goody. Unfortunately, the clever dialogue has been reserved for the supporting characters rather than its stars, Romano and Hackman. Thus, there are no bad guys to loathe (Eagle, a career politician, refuses to fight a dirty campaign), and Handy the underdog is too uninteresting to root for. Then there are all the unanswered questions: Where and how does Handy live? We only see him stacking shelves in the store and driving around in his truck. And why he hasn't made a commitment to Sally after so many years? While we find out somewhat at the end of the film why Handy has never proposed, the revelation comes too late for us to care and, until then, the most personal thing we know about him is that he has a dog named Plunger.
Director Donald Petrie fails to capitalize on his talented cast and by not exploiting the film's comedic heavy-hitters, delivers a lightweight comedy that's startlingly short on laughs.