Ray Romano has been making America laugh on his hit TV series "Everybody Loves Raymond" for 8 years now. With most TV stars, that kind of success usually translates into a crossover film career. But not with Romano, who makes his feature-film debut in Welcome to Mooseport (that's if you don't count his voice-work in Ice Age). And he picked a pretty good movie to make his film debut in this movie, which has a wonderful cast. But it shows that Romano might not be quite ready to make the translation to the silver screen.
Welcome to Mooseport opens up with the townfolk of Mooseport, a typical New England small town, getting ready to welcome their most important resident in the town's history: former President Monroe "Eagle" Cole (Hackman). He was the most popular President in American history, although he was the only President to get a divorce during his term in office. With these kind of marital troubles, it predictably sets up many references to another ex-President with marital woes, Bill Clinton. Cole gloats over getting a better book deal than Clinton and having a bigger Presidential library and stuff like that, and it gets fairly annoying. Anyway, Cole is informed that the town's mayor had just passed away and the eager townfolk want Cole to run for mayor, which he does, after thinking he can get closer to a woman (Tierney) by doing so. I wonder if Clinton would've done the same... Anyway, Handy Harrison (Romano) is going out with this girl, and, irritated with the ex-Commander-in-Chief chasing his skirt, he decides to run against him. That is the abbreviated version, by the way. There is a lot of retarded back-and-forth about Harrison running for mayor, then dropping out, then running again, but it's just pointless to describe.
I was intrigued by this movie because the premise is very original. The problem is that Romano's Harrison character really isn't. It's sort of a weird hybrid of Adam Sandler's title character in Mr. Deeds and Chris Rock's Mays Gilliam character in Head of State. He has the small-town, hokey aspect of the Deeds character and the getting-pushed-into-politics aspect of the Gilliam character. But, Romano doesn't play off both of these aspects very well. It seems that he was depending too much on the back-and-forth, one-liner style of television, only he didn't realize that, in most parts of the movie, there's no one to counter his schtick. There are a lot of parts that go on way too long, seemingly on Romano's improv, and it just doesn't work at all, which equates to a silent theater, which is never good for a comedy. Romano doesn't give a completely terrible performance, though, vibing nicely with Gene Hackman and Maura Tierney. But he can't go it on his own and he was very dependent on those actors to pull him through the scenes.
The rest of the acting is very well-done here. Hackman is wonderful as the conniving Cole, who has hardened from his many years in politics. He shows his always-wonderful range, playing nice one second, and turning into a relentless pit bull the next. It's not nearly as relentless as his role as President in Absolute Power, but you can see some signs of it in some parts. He's a calculating man who always gets what he wants, and Hackman plays him wonderfully. Maura Tierney gives another solid performance as "the girl" Sally, Marcia Gay Harden is great as Grace, a Presidential aide of some sort, Rip Torn gives a nice, small performance as Cole's campaign manager Bert, and Fred Savage (yeah, "Wonder Years" Fred Savage) is O.K. as another Presidential aide, Bullard. The best of the supporting performances would have to be Christine Baranski playing Cole's ex-wife, Charlotte. She's great as the just-as-conniving ex-First Lady who will do anything to bring Cole down, not to mention get a cut of his fortune. The movie really could've used more of her, especially to take some of the load off of Romano's performance.
The script, written by Tom Schulman, based off an earlier screenplay by Doug Richardson, is pretty good, with an original premise, some pretty funny moments and some nice little twists. There is a really funny bit about the Cole's concept of his golf game. There are some nice subtle nuances of Mooseport, like using paper-rock-scissors to choose who goes first in the debate, which sets this town apart from small towns that we've seen before in the movies. They basically split the focus of the movie between Cole and Harrison, which was nice, although Romano didn't really pull his weight. But from a script standpoint, it was nicely done, not focusing too much on either one of the characters. The only main problem with the script is they try to go back-and-forth too much too much. It's kind of like David Mamet's Heist with twists upon twists upon twists, and it gets somewhat irritating. But overall, the script was very decent. And even if you think it isn't, you have to give it points for originality, because this is ground that hasn't really been tread before.
Director Donald Petrie, who's resume primarily consists of chick flicks (Miss Congeniality, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), is decent at the helm. He handles the comedy very nicely, and he paints the picture of the nice, small-town life very nicely. It seemed like he got what he wanted out of his actors, but just let Romano go his own way for a lot of scenes, which was not a good thing.
Welcome to Mooseport is a movie about a small town being innundated by big city life. We've seen these types of movies before, but Mooseport sets itself apart in many ways, while keeping to the cliche in fewer ways. You should see this movie for its marvelous, all-around cast and for its premise. Just don't expect anything marvelous from Romano.