For good or for bad, 2003's "Welcome to Mooseport" is lightweight, lighthearted, TV fluff. With the exception of costar Gene Hackman, the movie features and is made by people who have worked extensively in TV, and it shows. While the film is totally harmless and sporadically amusing, it's hardly substantial enough to talk about.
Here's the setup: Former President of the United States Monroe "Eagle" Cole (Hackman) has just retired from office and decided to take up residence in the little seaport town of Mooseport, Maine, where he has a summer home. He would liked to have lived in his primary residence, but his wife took it in a recent divorce settlement. Once in Mooseport he finds the local town council wants him to run for mayor. Naturally, his first impulse is to reject the offer. But since his ex-wife wants to get her hands on the Mooseport place, too, he figures if he's mayor, he can claim the house as a business and not joint property. So, being a typically conniving politician, he decides to run.
However, unbeknownst to Cole, another of the town's citizens has also decided to run for mayor, namely, one Handy Harrison (Ray Romano of TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond"), owner of the town's hardware store and a general handyman and plumber. When Handy hears he's up against the most popular former President since Jack Kennedy, though, he decides to bow out. That is, until he sees that the President is making eyes at his longtime girlfriend, Sally Mannis (Maura Tierney). Then, Handy sees the mayoral race as a contest to win the girl. The President sees Handy as something he's never faced before: an honest man. The national press have a field day with the race, and they descend on the town and the candidates en masse. They love the David-and-Goliath angle.
The rest of the movie is about the election and the town's back and forth swings from their hometown favorite to the big-league ex-President. Unfortunately, nothing very funny or very witty happens during the campaign to justify much of our time. The high points of the story concern a pair of televised debates the candidates hold. It's all very folksy and Andy Griffith-like, with, as expected, an absence of nudity, sex, violence, or profanity, which might make it what some viewers like to call good "family" entertainment. I found it mostly good boring entertainment.
Yet, this movie is not a thing a person can get too annoyed with. There is nothing insulting or downright stupid about its humor. The thing's just so low-key as to be practically invisible. The movie never takes its material far enough; it's never daring, it's never edgy, it's never satiric. It's just, well, it's just TV.
As the President, Hackman is the best part of the show, but, then, we knew that going in. Hackman is always good, one of Hollywood's most dependable performers, even in milquetoast fare like this. He's perfect as the President because he can assert an exterior air of dignity and authority while maintaining a perfectly fallible interior. He's presidential in public and alternately smug and desperate in private. As the foil, Romano seems out of his league, which is, certainly, just the disposition his role demands. But the actor never dominates a scene with his presence the way Hackman does. Romano is too laid back, too submissive; he's a friendly, amiable guy, to be sure, but hardly a star of the first caliber as evidenced by his work here. Romano is, in fact, ideal for the small TV screen in a small situation comedy. But to handle a major motion picture? He shows little potential by sleepwalking through this film.
In supporting roles we have more TV folks. Marcia Gay Harden plays Grace Sutherland, the President's personal secretary. She's a strong character in the film, probably because Ms. Harden is a strong actress playing a strong woman who is clearly enamoured of her boss but whose affections for him go unnoticed because of his continual preoccupation with himself. Ms. Harden has previously been in TV's "The Education of Max Bickford" and numerous made-for-TV movies. As the President's obsequious press secretary, Bullard, we have Fred Savage, now grown up from his role in TV's "The Wonder Years." As the President's campaign manager, Bert Langden, we have the most able Rip Torn, formerly of TV's "The Larry Sanders Show," a program he squeezed in among his many movie appearances. As the former First Lady, Charlotte Cole, there is Christine Baranski, convincingly spiteful and malicious. You may remember her from TV's "Welcome to New York" or "Cybil." The whole thing is directed by Donald Petrie, who not only made the theatrical movies "Grumpy Old Men," "Miss Congeniality," and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" but TV episodes of "The Equalizer," "L.A. Law," "Picket Fences," and "Chicago Hope." I think you get my point. All of these filmmakers are used to doing TV, and they seem content to do little else in "Welcome to Mooseport."
"I had dignity once," exclaims the President. "Does anybody remember that?" Pity the poor guy. Cole is too dim to see how much his own secretary likes him. But pity poor Handy even more. He's too dim to end the whole problem of a campaign he doesn't want by simply asking his girlfriend to marry him. Only, then, we wouldn't have a movie, would we?
The picture quality is hard to fault on anything but grounds of believability. That is to say, the colors are bright and vivid, but they are of the routine movie-comedy variety, meaning brighter and more vivid than real life. Look at the image on the screen and then look out your window. Is your world as gorgeously alive as the one in the picture? I doubt it. The screen size is a standard widescreen measuring an approximately 1.74:1 anamorphic ratio, and the bit rate is high enough to ensure maximum color saturation and minimum grain, halos, or line jitters. Facial tones are slightly dark, blacks are solidly black, definition is good, and detail is exemplary.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio does its usual job in providing the film with clean, clear sound. The audio is not spectacular because there's nothing in the movie to reproduce spectacularly; the audio simply does its job, as it need to. The front channels convey dialogue well; the rear channels convey the occasional ambient crowd noises, voices, waves on the beach, and such.
Like the disc's audio, the disc's extras are exactly as one might expect, perfunctory and little more. There's the dependable audio commentary with the director, Donald Petrie. There are six deleted scenes. And there's a two-minute outtake reel. The highlight of the extras, though, is a Soova automobile commercial in English and Norwegian; this is a commercial the President's PR man wanted him to make in order to cash in on his popularity. Finally, there is a trailer for the Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe movie "The Clearing" and an Inside Look at the "Garfield" flick. The extras conclude with thirty-two scene selections; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; and
English and Spanish subtitles.
It's hard to pan a film with such an innocuous spirit as "Welcome to Mooseport," but the fact is, there's nothing about the project to invite much discussion, and there's little to invite repeat viewing. The story and characters are of a kind viewers can see on television any night of the week; and, indeed, "Mooseport" will be on television in short order, I'm sure, where viewers can see it for free. The DVD's lively colors are the film's greatest pleasure, and that might be one's only reason for renting or buying the disc; unless, of course, one has the opportunity to see it in a high-definition TV broadcast, in which case all bets are off.