Welcome to Mooseport
2004, PG-13, 110 min. Directed by Donald Petrie. Starring Gene Hackman, Ray Romano, Marcia Gay Harden, Maura Tierney, Christine Baranski, Fred Savage, Rip Torn.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 20, 2004
I’d like to go on record here: Not everyone loves Raymond. In recent years, his TV persona has gradually drifted from lovable schnook to vituperative hubby. And in this, Ray Romano’s big-screen debut (apart from voicing a character in the animated Ice Age), the comic actor is not likely to win new friends. The movie is a high-concept premise that goes absolutely nowhere: It’s all concept and no execution. Despite the presence of screen greats Gene Hackman and Marcia Gay Harden lending the proceedings some occasional sparks of subtlety, Welcome to Mooseport plays like a sitcom in search of a laugh track. Jokes fall with thuds that seem as though they’re waiting a few beats too long for laughs that never come. The premise has the former U.S. President Monroe Cole (Hackman), who is the first president to become divorced while in office, moving to his summer home in Mooseport, Maine, after his tenure in office. The town elders beseech him to become the town’s mayor, and through a set of embarrassing coincidences, the town plumber, "Handy" Harrison, turns out to be also running for the position. Although the setup is good for a comic skewering of the political process, the movie instead diverts the essential conflict to a dispute over a woman. Although they have been dating for six years, Sally (Tierney) has become tired of waiting for Handy to pop the question, so when the prez invites her out to dinner she happily accepts the attention. One aches to know what a director like Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks might have made from this small-town brouhaha. Welcome to Mooseport is in desperate need of some of that style of screwball levity, that lighter-than-air antic comedy which might have made something joyous from this simple premise. As is, Welcome to Mooseport is clunkily earthbound as its characters and the situations plod forward while never getting anywhere. A handful of stereotypical small-town kooks also parades through the background, and nobody ever explains how Maine man Handy acquired his distinctively New York accent. Mooseport’s Chamber of Commerce had best go back to the drawing board.