The very definition of a "safe" movie, "Welcome to Mooseport" is an occasionally funny, slightly charming feature that skips the chance to have any sort of opinion or take any sort of daring shot at small-town politics. Its edges have been rounded off and the film's conflicts are wrapped up complete with a bow.
The film stars Ray Romano has Henry Harrison, the plumber of the small Maine town of the title. He's been seeing local vet Sally (Maura Tierny) for years, but remains afraid to make more of a commitment to her. Things change quickly when former president Monroe "Eagle" Cole (Gene Hackman) comes to town, retiring to his Summer home after leaving office with one of the highest approval ratings in history. With the town's mayor recently deceased, the townsfolk decide to offer the role to the ex-president, who thinks that his staff can oversee the town while he's writing his book, making speaking engagements and looking over the construction of his presidential library.
Unknown to him, Harrison has also snuck in his own application. Although Cole convinces him to withdraw at first, when Harrison spies Cole making a move on Sally, he decides to put himself back in the race. It's at this point that the battle becomes a "war", but the "worst" thing to happen to either side is that Cole's "vicious" ex-wife (Christine Baranski) is brought into the picture, showing her support for Harrison.
Unfortunately, the film doesn't have much to say about politics, resorting to a game of "rock, paper, scissors" to decide the opener of a debate, while the ending turns into a "You take it. No, you take it." Thankfully, supporting performances by Marcia Gay Harden as the president's associate and Rip Torn as a political advisor add an element of believability to a film that seems to know little about actual politics. The film's lead performances aren't too great: Tierny has done this role seemingly a hundred times before, Hackman gets a few laughs, despite sleepwalking through an easy performance, and finally, Romano: who simply should stay with television.
The film certainly isn't a total loss: a couple of good gags and moderately funny lines are scattered throughout and a golf game where the president finds out how good he really isn't gets a few chuckles. Still, the film is rather overlong at times and that does drain the energy out of a few stretches of the film - the several mild chuckles still stand, but it could have been a better film overall had the screenwriter taken more risks and the filmmakers tightened the pace. Merely okay - could have been better.
VIDEO: "Welcome to Mooseport" is presented by Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. It's nice to see a Fox release with the anamorphic widescreen presentation to itself, instead of having to have to share a platter with a pan & scan edition (apparently, there is a separate pan & scan edition of "Mooseport"). As for the picture quality here, it's pretty good. Shot essentially like a sitcom, there's nothing too visually stellar about the film's appearance, although some of the locations are attractive. Sharpness and detail were generally first-rate, with nice detail even into the backgrounds.
The presentation only had a few minor issues, which included some mild edge enhancement in a couple of scenes and a few traces of compression artifacts. Colors looked naturalistic, with respectable saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: "Welcome to Mooseport" is presented by Fox in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack remained pretty low-key, with John Debney's rather plain score spread nicely across the front speakers. Aside from that, there wasn't much else: little in the way of ambience occured and the surrounds were hardly put to any use at all. Dialogue remained clear and clean throughout.
EXTRAS: Aside from commentary from director Donald Petrie, we get a few minutes worth of mildly funny outtakes (including the expected, "You're running against Gene Hackman."), six deleted scenes (w/optional commentary), a trailer for Fox's upcoming "The Clearing" and a car commercial starring Hackman's character.
Final Thoughts: "Welcome to Mooseport" is one of those movies that clearly wants to be liked and it does offer a few funny moments. However, the film had the potential to be a very sharp, very funny look at politics and instead, is largely a rather bland, overlong light comedy. Fox's DVD edition offers very good video quality, fine audio and a handful of decent supplements. Rent it.