Welcome To Mooseport
Fox // PG-13 // $27.98 // May 25, 2004
Review by Adam Tyner | posted May 14, 2004
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Ray Romano's career has followed a vaguely similar trajectory as Tim Allen's. Both men were born in the '50s, clawed their way to stardom through the standup circuit, found themselves propelled to household names with their sitcoms in the '90s, and then made the inevitable transition from television to the silver screen. One primary difference is that Tim Allen at least had a couple of successes like The Santa Clause and Galaxy Quest under his belt before settling into a string of critically lambasted flops like Joe Somebody. With Welcome to Mooseport, his first live action film credit, Ray Romano skipped straight to the mediocrity.

Mooseport is a dot on the map in Maine, fat-packed with wacky, colorful locals plucked from reruns of Northern Exposure. It winds up in the national press when retiring president Monroe "The Eagle" Cole (Gene Hackman) permanently moves to his one-time vacation home there. Monroe, whose approval ratings eclipsed every president of recent memory, is still reeling from his recent divorce from his money-grubbing wife (Christine Baranski). He's looking to lead the idyllic life of a former leader of the free world -- relentless golfing, overpriced speaking tours, eight-figure book deals, and a lavish presidential library. When the mayor of Mooseport unexpectedly keels over, the townsfolk turn to Monroe to take the helm. Before he can cobble together a polite dismissal, Monroe is introduced to local veterinarian Sally Mannis (Maura Tierney) and is instantly smitten. He agrees to toss his hat in the ring, and running unopposed with the deadline to file only a couple of days away, it's a foregone conclusion that he'll be the next mayor of Mooseport. Well, it is until he's pitted against Sally's boyfriend, local handyman Handy Harrison (Romano). Handy's ready to fork over the position until jealousy for Sally's affections spark a competition. Handy isn't interested in mounting much of a campaign, but Monroe spends millions saturating the airwaves, even importing his old campaign manager from Washington (Rip Torn). With their eyes set more on Sally than public office, Handy and Monroe incessantly try to one up each other and...well, you know the routine. Monroe's longtime secretary (Marcia Gay Harden) becomes disgusted with the whole mess, and things get even more complicated when the former first lady leaps onto the scene.

At one point, Monroe belts out a heartfelt monologue to Handy about the necessity of taking risks to achieve greatness. The basic concept is mentioned a couple of times in Welcome to Mooseport, though apparently that wasn't enough to hammer it into the skulls of the filmmakers. Welcome to Mooseport takes no chances; it's as pedestrian a comedy as is humanly conceivable. The movie attempts to portray Mooseport as a tiny, quirky town, though its halfhearted efforts are pretty much limited to an elderly nudist, an old man who speaks too loudly, and, not surprisingly, a town moose. Romano plays a bland, bug-eyed nice guy, and his theoretically-comedic moments revolve around monotone, stammered line readings. Hackman has a more compelling screen presence, but he's just not really given anything to do. Welcome to Mooseport unjustifiably approaches two hours in length, during which time nothing happens. Nothing. It's such a bad movie that it doesn't even fail well. The concept cries out for grand comic set pieces. It's mentioned that Monroe has shelled out millions of dollars on his smalltown campaign, but it's never seen on-screen. It might have been funny to see a sleepy town like Mooseport immersed in political ads...to see giant banners and posters plastering every square inch in sight. Aside from the expenses mentioned offhand whose impact is never seen, there's no apparent difference in the movie between Monroe's multimillion dollar campaign and the grassroots efforts of Handy's supporters. A couple of ideas probably sounded good on paper, like the Secret Service covertly duping the former president into thinking he's a skilled golfer, but the execution is botched. Welcome to Mooseport is completely devoid of energy, managing to get fewer laughs than your average sitcom while taking four times as long to do it. There isn't a good, solid laugh to be found in its bloated 110 minute runtime. The writing, direction, acting, and...hell, even the cloying, sappy score and the cover of XTC's "Mayor of Simpleton" that plays over the credits...are completely uninspired. Don't bother wasting your time with a visit to Mooseport.

Video: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is average for a recent theatrical release. As expected, there isn't any wear or speckling, and no glaring authoring concerns like edge haloing or compression artifacts creep in either. It's somewhat grainy, but that's not really a flaw. Decently detailed, fairly colorful...whatever else is in the laundry list of jargon I'm supposed to spout off, pretend I bothered to rattle 'em off here. The presentation's fine. Completely unremarkable, but fine. A separate fullscreen edition is also available.

Audio: Not surprisingly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (448Kbps) is a standard issue comedy track. The bulk of the action takes place across the front speakers, with some light ambiance, crowd noise, and reinforcement of assorted music sneaking into the surround channels. There isn't a lot going on in the lower frequencies, though rumbling engines and various bits of music do give the subwoofer at least a little something to do. Most of the attention is directed towards the dialogue, which comes through very cleanly and clearly. Welcome to Mooseport isn't the type of DVD you'll want to whip out to show off your home theater, but the six-channel audio accomplishes what it needs to, and I'd imagine it's representative of the way the movie sounded theatrically.

Other audio options include stereo surround dubs in French and Spanish, subtitles in English and Spanish, and closed captions.

Supplements: The extras kick off with an audio commentary by director Donald Petrie. It's a little dry and slow-moving, as Petrie spends a lot of time reiterating what's happening on-screen and pointing out improvised lines. If you want to liven it up with a drinking game, take a shot every time Petrie says "effortless", "adlib", or some variation of "pulls it off". There are a few interesting notes -- having to digitally remove a dangling penis, shooting during a bug infestation, how the "one throw" gag actually happened to one of the screenwriters, juggling five cameras during one debate, tossing in some seamless inserts, and working magic in the editing room. Petrie also offers optional commentary for six deleted scenes, which can be viewed individually or consecutively. They run around eight minutes total, including Grace awkwardly forking over a check to Handy, an extended bit in the mayor's office after Monroe throws his hat in the ring (mislabeled an alternate ending), Handy dealing with the unrelenting press, Grace chatting with Sally about some of Monroe's less charming qualities, an extended voting scene with appearances by the streaker and Sally, and Bullard gabbing on the phone. Just more of the same...no comedic gold to mine here. There are also two and a half minutes of cracking up and screwing around in an outtake reel. Petrie mentions in the commentary that some additional footage is hidden as an Easter Egg, though some quick trawling through the menus couldn't turn it up. Finally, there's the Soova car commercial hinted at in the movie, featuring Gene Hackman in character. It seems like the type of gag that would pop up as the end credits rolled and was originally intended to appear there, but...nope. It's in anamorphic widescreen and can be viewed in English or Norwegian (!).

Fox tosses a few shameless plugs for some of its other movies in a couple different places on the disc. "Inside Look" serves up a minute and a half clip for Garfield, an anamorphic widescreen trailer of The Day After Tomorrow, and a windowboxed spot for Dodgeball. "Fox Flix" takes viewers to an unnecessary submenu to check out a letterboxed trailer for The Clearing with Willem Dafoe. The disc opens with additional promos for the Cheaper by the Dozen remake, Stuck On You, and The Girl Next Door.

The DVD includes a set of animated 16x9-enhanced menus, complete with annoying animated transitions. Welcome to Mooseport has been divided into 32 chapter stops, and the copy I was sent for review didn't have an insert tucked into the keepcase.

Conclusion: Plodding and devoid of humor, Welcome to Mooseport takes a pretty good premise and squanders every ounce of its potential. Not even worth a rental. Skip It.


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