Welcome to Mooseport

With his long-running sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond winding down with possibly one more season left, the smart thing for Ray Romano to do is make the jump to movies. Welcome to Mooseport is his official big screen debut, after doing voice-over work in Ice Age. This film boasts an impressive cast that includes Gene Hackman, Marcia Gay Harden, Rip Torn, and Christine Baranski. Unfortunately, the tone is so genial, amiable, and non-offensive that it borders on bland. The town of Mooseport is full of nice, quirky people, like it is the blander version of Northern Exposure, which itself was a blander version of Twin Peaks. The plot itself is pretty stupid; a handyman runs for mayor against the ex-President of the United States of America, and it kind of wends its way lazily around before turning itself into a farce.

Handy Harrison (Romano) owns the local hardware store and is dating Sally Mannis (Maura Tierney, Insomnia, Scotland, PA), the local vet. He has commitment issues, and in their six years together, he has yet to propose. Sally is getting antsy. In comes Monroe Cole (Hackman, Runaway Jury, Behind Enemy Lines), the most popular President in history. Monroe is in Mooseport to build a new library, and escape from his ex-wife Charlotte (Baranski, Marci X, Chicago), a vicious shrew who is suing his for everything he has. The town wants him to run for mayor, and he obliges, thinking that he is running unopposed. Monroe asks Sally out on a date (not knowing she is dating Handy), thus incurring the wrath of Handy, who decides to run against him.

Director Donald Petrie (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Miss Congeniality), working off a story by Doug Richardson (Money Train, Bad Boys) and screenplay by Tom Schulman (Holy Man, 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag) wants to turn this into a huge farce, where Monroe and Handy use the election not as a battle for mayor, but for Sally's affections. While the competition heats up, the two become increasingly petty and the election turns serious. And here is where the laughs are supposed to come in. These two grown men, one of them an ex-President, act more and more like little children. It's amusing to a degree, but never gets to the point of funny.

Part of this stems from the fact that there is no real bad guy. Everybody is so nice, it feels like Petrie didn't want to offend anybody with the script. Romano plays essentially the same, normal everyman with a touch of neuroses that he does in his sitcom so it's not much of a stretch. Hackman is on autopilot, as are Baranski and Marcia Gay Harden (Mona Lisa Smile, Casa de Los Babys). Welcome to Mooseport is more focused on creating a charming but odd small town atmosphere than investing any time in a meaningful story. It's all a big trifle, albeit wrapped up nicely in Americana.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 50 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some brief sexual comments and nudity.

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