Welcome to Mooseport
Grade: D
Year: 2004
Director: Donald Petrie
Writer: Doug Richardson
Genre: Comedy
Rated: PG-13
By The Editor

You know, it's a lot easier to write off a review for a bad movie whose stars (Rob Schneider) usually make awful movies. You want television actors and other likable personalities to make a smooth transition from TV to Tinsel Town. Alas, I am here to report that Ray Romano's big screen debut is nothing short of an awful movie-going experience.

Ray Romano is Harold "Handy" Harrison, the owner of Mooseport's quietly quaint hardware store. Oh yeah, he's also a mobile plumber who makes house calls when you're toilet needs a fixin'. Why the owner of a hardware who has three fulltime employees under him makes house calls is just one of many questions you'll have before you realize the film isn't worth your time asking questions.

Handy's services are most recently requested by President Monroe Cole (Gene Hackman) who just finished his second term as the most popular president in US history. He's looking to wind down despite his permanent entourage of assistants and a pushy PR director (Fred Savage) always at his side. His home in Mooseport, Maine is the only property he has left that has yet to be taken by his greedy ex-wife, Charlotte Cole (Christine Baranski), a painfully nasty woman who must use the same hair stylist as Hillary Clinton.

President Cole doesn't intend to stay for long, but the townspeople have a little secret; their beloved mayor recently passed away and no one has filed any election papers to replace the always unopposed mayor of Mooseport. A few local officials want Cole to be mayor, but shucks, he was the most popular president of all time. Do we really expect him to become the mayor of this small unheard of town? Not until Handy's girlfriend Sally (Maura Tierney), a veterinarian and animal specialist, walks in. And because she's got such a pretty face, Cole gladly accepts the position knowing he might be able to see her more than once.

Here's the kicker: He doesn't know that she's dating Handy -- his opponent. That's right, Handy submitted his papers thinking he too would run unopposed. With two men in the race, it looks like we've got a campaign ahead of us.

So now we're set up for the most absurd plot of the year as of mid-February, and I've seen "Torque" and "My Baby's Daddy." The concept of a two-term president running for mayor against a local hardware store owner is so far past the deep end that its on the concrete. At least "50 First Dates" knows its silly; as well as every other Adam Sandler movie, and every comedy we've seen this year. "Welcome to Mooseport" only builds on its stupidity when Cole finds the audacity to ask his opponent's girlfriend out on a date while expecting to win the loyalty of Mooseport.

The campaign teams aren't very even. Cole has unlimited resources and an expert strategist (Rip Torn), while Handy only has his store staff members, two elderly women. I'm not sure they fit in, although the black woman does say "um-hum" a lot, satisfying the 'sassy black woman rule' -- you must always have one upbeat black woman with a sassy attitude in every comedy about the town's people.

Don't expect any support from Handy's girlfriend. Sally is one of those movie girlfriends who is never happy because her boyfriend doesn't give her enough attention. She wants Handy to propose to her, and he almost does: "Honey. I think I'm ready for the next step. I want to make the commitment. I'm going to buy a truck. What, you no like? But honey, this way I can carry all my tools in one trip!"

So maybe Handy is a tool (bad pun, bad) as well, but he never had a chance. In the beginning of the film, we see Sally in a helicopter transporting a sick donkey over a forest bed (?) but is told she can't land until the President does, as he has priority over a donkey if you can believe it. Sally doesn't. And she also doesn't like being an object of the campaign. I guess no one told her that when you agree to go on a date with the President who's running against your boyfriend, the tabloids tend to take notice.

"Welcome to Mooseport" is a dud. I wondered how a potentially great political satire could turn so sour, but then I learned that it was directed by Donald Petrie, whose equally bad "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" ended with the same exhausted conclusion. You'd think a film with great talent could somehow avoid the obligatory ending where two major characters forgive each other at the last moment, kissing and embracing underneath the big "AIRPORT" sign. I was wrong to have expected otherwise.

There's not a single funny moment in the movie, and it doesn't help when the actors don't seem interested. Hackman is all right but boy do we hate his character. How are we supposed to like someone who's dating his opponent's girlfriend? This is a guy who was the most popular president ever and is now running for mayor on no real grounds or issues. When asked at the town debate how he would handle the stop sign crisis, he responded that he would assemble a team of experts and "right-of-way attorneys."

And then there's humble Ray Romano who plays a character who's too simple to assemble teams and such. He's just a plumber/hardware store owner who wants to do good things. Everybody Loves Raymond. Everybody Loves Handy. It worked for Raymond but not at all for Handy. This character requires a lesser known actor to play him, not one of television's biggest stars. What Romano can do I don't know, but he has yet to prove that he's ready for the movies.

After I saw the screening of "Welcome to Mooseport," I learned that Mr. Romano was in a boat not too far from mine. "What if it just does abysmally?" he told Time magazine with still a week before the film makes its national debut. "What if people not only don't go — what if they protest?"

Huh, not a strong reaction from someone pitching his movie. But it's this following sentence that writes its own review. Three statements, but only one of them is true:

"It's a good movie, but it's not knockdown funny…It wound up being more of a sweet movie."

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