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Movie Review : Welcome To Mooseport

Welcome to Mooseport belongs to an increasingly rare breed: civilized comedies – that is, comedies that feature adults in situations that have nothing to do with their sex lives, regressive behavior or how they look doing the Full Monty (though the world of “Mooseport” does include a naked elderly jogger). The moose of Welcome to Mooseport never passes gas, suffers a digestive-system malfunction or does a cute double-take.

It’s a small victory, but we’ll take it. What’s more in spite of this potential handicap it still manages to be exceptionally funny.

Before I delve into any more detail, I want to take you on a slight detour into recent history. Did you know, for instance, that during his presidency, George Bush the elder made so many trips to his beach house in Kennebunkport, Maine, that it became known as the “Maine White House?” Many thought he would retire there, but as we know, they decided to return to Texas instead. Now what if they had chosen Maine?
Would anything have been different? The writers of Welcome to Mooseport seem to have asked themselves this very question and their resulting ‘analysis’ yields some extreme but amusing answers.

The president in question here is Monroe “The Eagle” Cole (Gene Hackman) whose only resemblance to George Bush the elder is that they both have holiday homes in Maine. Into Mooseport he comes complete with entourage of press secretaries and Secret Service agents, following an ugly divorce from his wife, Charlotte (Christine Baranski, Cybill’s best friend from the TV show Cybill). His wife got everything and Monroe was left with only their vacation home in Mooseport, Maine (played by small-town Scugog, Canada).

The plot of the movie has Hackman being persuaded to run unopposed for mayor of the town. Matters become more complicated however when it turns out that Handy Harrison (TV’s Ray Romano in his live-action film debut), the town’s likable hardware-store owner/plumber also throws his name into the ring. Handy was prepared to withdraw from the race and step aside for Monroe, but he changes his mind when Monroe tries to date local veterinarian Sally Mannis (Maura Tierney), who is Handy’s longtime (and long-frustrated) girlfriend. Cue high-jinx as these two political extremes lock horns.

The film thrives on the comedic talents of its two leads. Both characters will be instantly familiar to many viewers. Romano acts like he’s still on the set of ‘Everyone loves Raymond’, while Hackman adds a touch more sensitivity and bewilderment to his character Royal Tenebaum, from the film The Royal Tenebaums. Romano’s nervous humour complements Hackman’s stubborn disbelief and the two play well off each other.

Together they make for an entertaining hour and a half.

Any good comedy needs a strong supporting cast. Here Welcome to Mooseport also delivers. Mooseport the town is full of memorable small town stereotypes, such as the over the top town pride exhibited by the gnome-like town leader, and this is well juxtaposed with the DC entourage that surrounds Hackman. Hackman’s gaggle includes notable turns from Rip Torn as Monroe’s political adviser, a man who stages Monroe’s mayoral campaign as if it were the same approximate size as a run for the presidency; the invaluable Marcia Gay Harden as the big man’s executive secretary; and Fred Savage as his press person, an ambitious pup who is worried about all the millions Monroe is may lose by running an unsuccessful campaign for mayor.

Overall, Welcome to Mooseport comes highly recommended. Predictable it may be, but that doesn’t stop it being worth watching. It even provides a poignant message at this time of the student year: every vote counts.

So even if you don’t go see this film, heed its advice and vote in Tuesday’s SA elections.

March 1, 2004
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