Welcome to Mooseport

High-concept small-town comedy long on running time and short on laughs. Despite fine cast headed by Gene Hackman and Ray Romano, Fox release lacks the antic energy and imagination that might have put this over as a sharp-witted community comedy. Prospects look mild, the wild card being the untested B.O. draw repped by TV star Romano.

Monroe Cole - Gene Hackman Handy Harrison - Ray Romano Grace Sutherland - Marcia Gay Harden Sally Mannis - Maura Tierney Charlotte Cole - Christine Baranski Bullard - Fred Savage Bert Langdon - Rip Torn Irma - June Squibb Morris Gutman - Wayne Robson Stu - John Rothman Dyer - Karl Pruner

The most popular president in U.S. history meets his political match in “Welcome to Mooseport,” a high-concept small-town comedy long on running time and short on real laughs. Despite a fine cast headed by Gene Hackman as the recently retired prez and Ray Romano as an ordinary hardware store owner who runs against him for mayor of a coastal Maine burg, Fox release lacks the antic energy and inspired imagination that might have put this over as a sharp-witted community comedy in the Preston Sturges vein. Commercial prospects look mild, the wild card being the untested B.O. draw repped by TV star Romano.

Substantial mirth seems promised by the prospect of Hackman playing Monroe “Eagle” Cole, who has just left the oval office after two massively successful terms and now brings his swelled head to Mooseport, where he has previously summered. Accompanied by his efficient and adoring personal secretary Grace (Marcia Gay Harden), press secretary Bullard (Fred Savage) and a regiment of self-serious security personnel and flunkies, Cole looks forward to lounging around reading the paper while fielding multi-million-dollar offers for speaking engagements, memoirs and car commercials.

The city fathers have other ideas: Mooseport’s mayor just died, and Cole is encouraged to run for the post. Imagining his obligations as largely ceremonial and spurred by the belief that his financially voracious ex-wife Charlotte (Christine Baranski) won’t be able to lay claim to the seaside house if it’s an official residence, Cole decides to run.

But Cole, who was the first president to be divorced while occupying the White House, sparks an unanticipated electoral race when he asks out attractive local veterinarian Sally (Maura Tierney), the longtime but currently fed up girlfriend of Handy Harrison the hardware man (Romano). Seized by mild-mannered jealousy, Handy jumps into the mayor’s race too, going so far as to begin campaigning at the very restaurant where Cole and Sally are having their first date, an event being recorded in every detail as a national news event.

As the stakes are upped for both political and personal reasons (Cole’s fees will allegedly plummet if he loses his first race to a nonentity), Cole calls in his crafty old campaign manager (Rip Torn), who begins applying big-time strategies to the municipal race; one of the few hearty laughs stems from Cole asking how big the sampling was for some downbeat polling statistics, only to be told it was the whole town.

The candidates hold two debates and engage in a one-on-one golf match to determine who will get Sally; latter contest exposes how much the ex-prez’s golf scores had been improved by his staff, who hide in the trees and underbrush and throw balls out into the fairway when they go off-course.

To be sure, the women have something to say about how things turn out; drunkenly bonding in the clubhouse while the guys play their round, Sally and Grace seem to inspire in one another the gumption to deliver ultimatums to their less than attentive men.

Indeed, a certain unease lurks around the edges of the would-be romantic relationships penned by Tom Schulman from Doug Richardson’s story. Sally is frustrated over having waited for six years for Handy to commit, and it doesn’t take long to feel that she is right to look for greener pastures elsewhere, so lacking in amorous gumption is Handy. But however alluring a popular ex-president may be, Cole is in his early 70s, and it would take some deeper character analysis to convince that Sally might actually consider him as a legitimate candidate for her attentions.

In almost all respects, “Welcome to Mooseport” lacks the sort of spirit, sharpness and impudent sense of fun to fulfill the promise of the premise. The small town (actually filmed in Toronto and Port Perry, Canada) is presented only in generic ways, the supporting cast beyond the Hollywood names is thin and any attempt at pointed political humor, other than making wan and repetitive fun of Cole’s entourage, is avoided. Even Hackman, who would seem born to play such a role, lacks that extra spring in his step and undercurrent of maliciousness that mark his best performances, which is not to the credit of director Donald Petrie.

Romano, in his first bigscreen starring role (he scored strongly as the voice of the mammoth in the animated “Ice Age” and was part of the ensemble cast in the Sundance entry “Eulogy”), uses the sharp timing and deadpan underplaying familiar from “Everybody Loves Raymond” to good effect, but isn’t challenged to deliver anything new. Tierney, Harden, Baranski and Torn deliver in pro form. Lensing is blah, other tech contributions routine.

Popular on Variety

Welcome to Mooseport

Production: A 20th Century Fox release presented in association with Mediastream IV of an Intermedia production. Produced by Tom Schulman, Basil Iwanyk. Executive producers, Rory Rosegarten, David Coatsworth, Moritz Borman, Doug Richardson. Directed by Donald Petrie. Screenplay, Tom Schulman, story by Doug Richardson.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Victor Hammer; editor, Debra Neil-Fisher; music, John Debney; production designer, David Chapman; art director, Michael Shocrylas; set decorator, Gordon Sim; costume designer, Vicki Graef; sound (Dolby/DTS), David Lee, Peter Shewchuk; supervising sound editor, Cameron Frankley; associate producer, David A. Holden; assistant director, Lee Cleary; second unit camera, Glen Keenan; casting, Sheila Jaffe, Georgianne Walken. Reviewed at 20th Century Fox Studios, Los Angeles, Feb. 13, 2004. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 110 MIN.

With: Monroe Cole - Gene Hackman Handy Harrison - Ray Romano Grace Sutherland - Marcia Gay Harden Sally Mannis - Maura Tierney Charlotte Cole - Christine Baranski Bullard - Fred Savage Bert Langdon - Rip Torn Irma - June Squibb Morris Gutman - Wayne Robson Stu - John Rothman Dyer - Karl Pruner

More Film

  • Scarlett Johansson poses for photographers upon

    Scarlett Johansson 'Pushing' for All-Women Marvel Movie

    After the epic battle scene in “Avengers: Endgame” depicted the female superheroes uniting to protect Spider-Man from Thanos, Marvel fans started wondering if they’ll ever see the women unite for a standalone movie. “Captain Marvel” star Brie Larson generated even more buzz when she told Variety that she and other female co-stars have approached Marvel [...]

  • Ivana Lombardi Netflix

    Annapurna Film Head Ivana Lombardi Named Director of Indies at Netflix (EXCLUSIVE)

    Annapurna Pictures president of film Ivana Lombardi is moving across town to Netflix, after almost a year in her role at Megan Ellison’s company. As of Nov. 6, Lombardi will serve as director of independent films at the streamer. She will report directly to Lisa Nishimura, Netflix’s vice president of independent film and documentary features. [...]

  • Zoe Kravitz 'Big Little Lies' TV

    Zoe Kravitz to Play Catwoman in 'The Batman'

    “Big Little Lies” star Zoe Kravitz has been tapped to play Catwoman, the antiheroine and sometime love interest of the Caped Crusader, in Matt Reeves’ upcoming “The Batman.” Kravitz will star opposite Robert Pattinson as Batman. Pre-production on the Warner Bros.-DC Comics pic is expected to start this summer. No official start date has been [...]

  • Hadley Robinson Amy Poehler

    'Little Women' Actress Hadley Robinson to Star in Amy Poehler's 'Moxie'

    “Utopia” and “Little Women” actress Hadley Robinson has been tapped to star in Amy Poehler’s next directorial effort “Moxie.” Lauren Tsai is also on board to co-star in the Netflix movie. “Moxie” follows a teenage girl (Robinson) from a small town who is inspired by her mother’s Riot Girl past and starts a feminist revolution [...]

  • Samara Weaving

    'G.I. Joe' Spinoff 'Snake Eyes' Adds 'Ready or Not's' Samara Weaving

    Samara Weaving will join Henry Golding in the “G.I. Joe” spinoff, “Snake Eyes.” Haruka Abe, Ursula Corbero, Iko Uwais and Andrew Koji have also boarded the Paramount, Skydance and AllSpark movie. “The Captain” director Robert Schwentke is helming and Brian Goldner is producing. Evan Spiliotopoulos, who wrote “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Huntsman: Winter’s [...]

  • The Irishman

    'The Irishman' to Screen at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre

    Netflix’s “The Irishman,” directed by Martin Scorsese, will screen at American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood  for two weeks starting Nov. 1. The screenings, announced Monday, are part of the limited theatrical run for the 209-minute crime drama, which premiered at the New York Film Festival on Sept. 27. Netflix will begin streaming “The Irishman” on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content