Welcome to Mooseport

Feb 25, 2004 at 12:00 am

Welcome to Mooseport, aka Smalltown, U.S.A., where everybody says “good morning” by first names, and no one blinks an eye at Harve the nudist jogger, except of course when he buys a new pair of socks. Retired U.S. President Monroe Eagle Cole (Gene Hackman) returns to his Mooseport vacation home after a year’s hiatus hoping to forget about his harping ex-wife (Christine Baranski), “the Wicked Witch of the West Wing,” and to arrange his lucrative post-presidential, slightly ego-crazed career.

So it’s a big deal for handyman Handy Harrison (Ray Romano) when he bumps into Cole while fixing his toilet. All is happy-go-lucky until Sally (Maura Tierney), Handy’s girlfriend of six years, catches Cole’s divorcee eye, and a double-headed crisis rears its fuzzy antlers: Mooseport needs a mayor, and Sally feels the urge for emotional commitment.

Lord knows we need to laugh about politics, but when it comes to salving our Oval Office wounds, Welcome to Mooseport is like taking a baby aspirin for pneumonia — so inoffensive, it’s almost not there. Ray Romano, headliner of the popular TV series “Everybody Loves Raymond,” easily transfers his sitcom hemming and hawing, self-conscious-yet-endearing regular-guy charm to the bigger screen, and Hackman, an actor who’s been it all, barely had to open his eyelids for Cole.

But why expect any biting surprises from director Donald Petrie, the same guy who directed How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Miss Congeniality, Mystic Pizza, and Grumpy Old Men, an apparent master of benign cinema? And although he’s responsible for writing the respectable Dead Poets Society, what hope have we from screenwriter Tom Schulman, whose last feature film claim to fame was Holy Man? As if trying to sell laundry detergent, Schulman pulls out the cute card right away, flashing puppies, a donkey in midair and Bruce the baby moose across the screen. This alongside easygoing dialogue causing an occasional smirk proves mildly entertaining until Handy commits to running for mayor against Cole, the screenplay hits the pavement and never recovers. Instead, it loses its will to live.

Mooseport is a harmless, fictitious place where an ex-president can end up running against his plumber for mayor, but if you’re looking for laughs that come out of clashing quirky small-town personalities next to big-city sensibilities, I suggest you watch “Green Acres.”

Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].