Welcome to Mooseport
Starring Gene Hackman, Ray Romano, and Marcia Gay Harden. Rated PG.
The pop-culture cemetery is littered with headstones featuring sitcom stars who've botched the transition to the big screen. This time around, Everybody Loves Raymond's Ray Romano hits the multiplex with Welcome to Mooseport. As a small-town plumber named Handy Harrison, he's basically the same plaid-shirted whiner he plays on TV, only way less relaxed and with a much bigger head. Director Donald Petrie does his best to maintain damage control, but Romano is bland enough to make Tim Allen look sharper than a brick of Velveeta. In fact, he's so innocuous that it's barely worth the trouble to write his feature-film obituary. On the other hand, if his agent grabs a shovel now, there's still time to dig a nice, safe hole between Ted Danson and Shelley Long.
Not that the story doesn't have a promising premise. As a proud citizen of Mooseport, Maine, Handy lives a life of contentment that functions like a clear-running drain. He's got a nice little business and a sweet girlfriend named Sally (ER's Maura Tierney) who's been patiently waiting six years for him to pop the question. Harrison's world is turned upside down when a former U.S. president decides to settle in Mooseport. As the popular Monroe Cole--the only president to be divorced while still in office--Gene Hackman takes an active interest in the shapely Sally, and before you know it, the two rivals for Sally's affection are running for town mayor in an effort to impress her. The meandering script seems vaguely intent on exploring the comic possibilities of an electoral pissing match in a modern-day Mayberry, but nobody, including Petrie, is able to work up much more than a folksy trickle of interest.
For Hackman, this is just the most recent exercise in topping off his bank account without breaking a sweat. He's never been especially adept at comedy; even so, he's the one to watch here. As an actor, he can do more with a single weaselly glance than the rest of the supporting cast can muster at full tilt. Mind you, he's surrounded by a host of small-screen veterans who seem happy enough just to be working, but even an ensemble that ranges from The Wonder Years's Fred Savage to Cybill's Christine Baranski can't make Ray Romano feel at ease. If I were him, I'd think twice before quitting my day job.