Jerry Seinfeld has everything and (no pun intended) nothing to do with Welcome to Mooseport, but it’s hard not to think of him during this overlong, oversimplified and underwhelming comedy.
Like Seinfeld, Mooseport star Ray Romano is at the front of a hugely successful TV show, still tops in prime time and already raking in beaucoup bucks in syndication. The difference is that Seinfeld, short of a self-produced documentary, has stayed away from the riskier world of movies.
Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond succeeded not so much because of their stars, but rather cast chemistry — a foreign concept for Mooseport, whose big-name players rarely make a comedic connection.
Romano, in his live-action film debut, has awkward pauses that make it seem as if he’s waiting for the laugh track. Christine Baranski, Maura Tierney, Rip Torn and even Fred Savage all are wasted here. And you know how for every great role Gene Hackman takes, there are two check-cashers? This is one of those.
He and Romano mostly go through the motions as competitors in a small Northeastern town’s mayoral race.
Monroe “Eagle” Cole (Hackman) is a fresh-out-of-office U.S. president under attack from his ex-wife in a divorce settlement. He accepts the city council’s offer to run for mayor on the assumption that if his summer home there becomes the mayor’s home, his ex can’t snatch it away.
Hapless hardware guy “Handy” Harrison’s (Romano) co-workers are put off by Cole’s cockiness and set Handy up as his opponent. To not be perceived as a bully trying to trample John Q. Public, Cole asks Harrison to withdraw. He agrees, until Cole makes moves on Sally (Tierney), Handy’s girlfriend who is frustrated with his indecision about their relationship. Handy gets back in the race and in over his head.
Rather than making any insightful or incisive political commentary, Tom Schulman’s screenplay for Mooseport sets its feet firmly as a low-level sitcom movie, with a fair deal of out-of-nowhere rude humor.
Handy’s dog mounts Cole’s poodle, which doesn’t even lead to the predictable gag of there being puppies. And there is an older man who always jogs naked through town, his saggy buttocks the first image shown in the movie.
It’s these quirks that don’t work that make Mooseport like a bad cross section of TV dramedy towns. Imagine the romantic sap of a “very special” version of Ed, with some random moose shots thrown in to name-drop Northern Exposure.
Of all its drawn-out comedic riffs, only a golf match between Handy and Cole works consistently. And even that gives way to golf metaphors that would have been written right out of Caddyshack II.
Worse yet, Mooseport drags toward the two-hour mark by wrapping up two convoluted romances, the plot points of which were easily predicted by a small child sitting at the preview screening.
If his future film choices are anything like this, Everybody Loves Raymond won’t just be Romano’s hit TV show. It will have to be his mantra of daily affirmation.