Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Welcome to Mooseport

If you have the HBO cable package, or if you have access to Amazon's streaming video service, you'll have an opportunity to catch Welcome to Mooseport. It'll be on HBO Comedy overnight tonight at 12:05 AM, and again Friday morning (April 13) and next Monday afternoon (April 16).

Gene Hackman plays Monroe "Eagle" Cole, who at the opening of the movie is just finishing up his two-term tenure as President of the United States, discussing what to do next. He's got a lot of offers on his plate, and frankly, he has to take some of them because his ego wants to pay for a big presidential library, while he's also got an ex-wife who cleaned him out. He's going to make up his mind about what to do while living in what was his old vacation house in Mooseport, ME. (Some vacation house.)

The townsfolk of Mooseport are generally honored to have an ex-President in their midst, although there are some who can't seem to win for losing. In the latter category is local handyman and hardware store owner Handy Harrison (Ray Romano). He's been fixing up Cole's bathroom before Cole arrived in Mooseport, and Cole's arriving early gets the two of them off on the wrong foot. There's also Handy's long-suffering girlfriend, local veterinarian Sally (Maura Tierney), who nearly lost a case because the animal was being airlifted and the ex-President's plane got priority. She's also suffering because Handy just won't propose to her.

Anyhow, at the big meet-and-greet for Mooseport's newest and most prominent citizen, the town fathers ask him a favor. The relatively low-key post of mayor is being vacated by the current mayor, and they need somebody to run. Would he be willing to make for a good human interest story by becoming a small-town mayor? Cole finds it a neat idea, and so decides to run.

But what nobody knows is that Handy decided he was going to put his hat into the ring too, so it turns out that the ex-President isn't going to be running opposed. Handy is willing to pull out and let Cole run unopposed, except that there's the matter of Sally, who's getting fed up with Handy to the point that she's not going to want a quitter. Handy has to run for mayor if he wants to keep Sally. And so the two square off, the man with a political machine behind him, and the low-key handyman who never expected to get into a national spectacle.

It's all a good idea, and the sort of thing you could see the studio system having used for a nice little programmer 70 years earlier. But here the execution just isn't up to the premise. Part of it comes from the portrayal of the small town. As with the the recently-reviewed Antonia's Line, I found some of the portrayal just a little too quirky. I felt like a fair amount of the humor fell flat, especially surrounding the ex-President's advisors. Then there were the downright irritating characters. There was a town father who came across as more used-car salesman than anything else, as well as one of Handy's employees who was given the thankless job of playing Stereotypically Sassy Older Black Woman. In a programmer from the 1930s, though, she'd probably be playing Stereotypically Sassy Maid.

This was Gene Hackman's final movie, and one wonders if the low quality had anything to with his retirement. (To be fair, he was also 74 years old when it was released.) Not the best of ways to go out.

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