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February 2004

By Julian Roman
Welcome to Mooseport
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Donald Petrie
Producers: Tom Schulman & Basil Iwanyk
Screenplay: Tom Schulman
Composer: John Debney
Cast: Gene Hackman, Ray Romano, Marcia Gay Harden, Maura Tierney, Christine Baranski, & Fred Savage

Everyone will still love Raymond after watching Welcome to Mooseport. While the film could have been a little funnier, it succeeds as a great vehicle for Ray Romano's foray unto the big screen. He couldn't have chosen a better script with a better character. He plays Harold "Handy" Harrison, local fix-it man and hardware store owner in the idyllic town of Mooseport, Maine. The town goes into shock when former two term president, Monroe "Eagle" Cole (Gene Hackman), decides to make Mooseport his home after public office. The real reason is a nasty divorce settlement from his out-for-blood ex-wife (the always-awesome Christine Baranski). She got the Baltimore house and won't give-up until half of "Eagle" Cole's earnings; book deals, speaking fees, potential car commercials, are sitting squarely in her bank account.

The town council decides to offer the very popular ex-prez the esteemed office of mayor. There's only hitch, Handy Harrison has also signed up to run. His loyal friends and family drafted him into the race. Eagle Cole decides to swing by Handy's store to talk some sense into the man. He makes the terrible mistake of asking Handy's girlfriend Sally (Maura Tierney) out on a date. Handy and Sally are on the outs because of Handy's fear of commitment (i.e. failing to propose marriage). Well you can take the town, but you can't take a man's woman. Handy decides to stay in the race and both men duke it out for all the marbles, the mayor's office and Sally's affection. Pretty soon the word spreads about the race, local handy man versus powerful ex-president. Networks start covering the debates, high-powered campaign managers are flown in, TV ads start running in the millions, and the race to win it all plays out for everyone to see.

Gene Hackman and Ray Romano are great in this film. There's no doubt about that, but I think the success of Mooseport lies in the hands of the ensemble characters. The supporting cast is filled with great actors delivering top notch comedic performances. I've already mentioned Maura Tierney and Christine Baranski, but Marcia Gay Harden is so good here. She plays Eagle Cole's assistant Grace Sutherland, the woman that sugars his coffee and runs every facet of his life. She's madly in love with Eagle, but he's too busy dealing with his ex-wife and making an ass of himself with Sally to notice. Marcia Gay Harden is a phenomenal actress and deftly moves from part to part with ease. She deserves another Oscar win; the woman has acting skill. Back to the cast, Fred Savage and Rip Torn round out Eagle Cole's cadre of followers. They run his campaign along with some die-hard secret service agents, who volunteer to make Handy Harrison "disappear" quietly. Those guys were hilarious. I could only imagine what the secret service did for Bill Clinton.

Welcome to Mooseport is a well-written film. Screenwriters Doug Richardson and Tom Schulman nail the characters and the setting. My only gripe is with the humor. The film is funny, but plays it safe for a more mature audience. They're marketing this film to the older demographic and smartly so, but could have been a little more risquÈ. The premise is very original and could have easily been milked for so much more. I suppose Ray Romano doesn't want to go too crazy, understandable, but it would have been fun to see them really play dirty to win it all. The biggest compliment I can give the film is genuine surprise at the ending. I called who wins the race, but it was cleverly done and could have gone the other way. That's how you know you've got a winner of a feel-good movie, when either character can come out on top without pissing off the audience.

Ray Romano earns his chops in this film. He goes toe to toe with Gene Hackman, one of the greatest actors, and does well. I never got the feeling that I was seeing his TV character. Ray Romano is a funny, likeable everyman. He could have a successful film career if he chooses wisely. I think the film will do extremely well with families and older audiences. It has the feel of a Hallmark movie or a nice piece of apple pie, something that you and your grandmother would both like.