Enter former President Monroe Cole (Gene Hackman). He's the most liked President since JFK, and he has decided to make Mooseport his retirement haven. Not that he has much of a choice since his ex-wife, the former First Lady, has nearly cleaned him dry in a nasty divorce. Mooseport is also going through a crisis. The mayor has recently died, and the troubled city council cannot find anyone willing to run for office. With President Cole now living in town, the city council sees him as the answer to their prayers, and after enough of their pressure, Cole enters the race for no other reason than to keep his last possession: his vacation home.
Everyone in Mooseport is elated at the prospect that the likeable Cole will be their next mayor, including the local hardware store manager Handy Harrison (Ray Romano). He's having some issues with his longtime girlfriend and veterinarian Sally Mannis (ER's Maura Tierney). He doesn't figure he'll have much of a chance against the former President, but he is convinced that running for mayor will help prove his commitment to Sally. Yet, when President Cole, unaware that Handy and Sally are dating, asks Sally out, Handy feels threatened and takes to the campaign trail vowing to win the election and Sally's heart.
Let the political circus begin! Press from across the country raid the town fawning over the candidates' every move; expensive television commercials are planned; campaign managers plot devious schemes; debates become debacles. Sounds like a real election, yet politics are not at the core of the election! The election is quickly reduced to a Dating Game episode staring two completely uncharismatic guys (Handy and Cole) competing for Sally's attention, and she seems the least bit interested in either of them. In fact, her character is so poorly written, we never really know what she wants.
It's hard to imagine that a proven writer like Tom Schulman (Dead Poets Society) could have penned this incoherent mess. The story is riddled with a series of unbelievable plot contrivances and inadequately developed characters. We know where the story is headed before it even begins. The chemistry between central characters can't even save the film - it's laughably non-existent. I didn't believe for a minute that the confident, headstrong Sally could tolerate being with the boring, unambitious Handy.
In his first lead role, Romano is unable to shake the same persona he plays on television, and he has twice as many lines as needed. His character is just plain annoying. There's a supple supporting cast that includes Fred Savage and Marcia Gay Harden as the President's closest, yet detached advisors. Rip Torn plays the President's ruthless, plotting campaign manager and Christine Baranski is the President's money-hungry malevolent ex-wife. They're left with little more to do than pose behind the three key characters, which is a shame since a broader script including more of these characters could have helped the film.
There's a better film out there about a retired President living the civilian life, but Welcome to Mooseport is not it. Unfortunately for us, it's too late to recall the results of this election.
Petrie has a commentary on the Mooseport DVD, and deleted scenes and a gag reel are also to be found on the disc. Best of all is Hackman's unseen presidential car commercial, available in English and Norwegian.
Watch him pull a rabbit out of his hat.
Run time: 110 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th February 2004
Box Office USA: $14.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $14M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: 20th Century Fox
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 13%
Fresh: 19 Rotten: 125
IMDB: 5.2 / 10
Director: Donald Petrie
Screenwriter: Tom Schulman
Starring: Ray Romano as Harold 'Handy' Harrison, Gene Hackman as Monroe "Eagle" Cole, Marcia Gay Harden as Grace Sutherland, Maura Tierney as Dr. Sally Mannis, June Squibb as Irma, Christine Baranski as Charlotte Cole, Fred Savage as Bullard, Rip Torn as Bert Langdon, Wayne Robson as Morris Gutman
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