If Bill Clinton ran for mayor of New York against Mike Bloomberg, how would the
contest turn out? Bloomberg's no small potatoes, a giant in his own financial
industry, but the Clinton prestige would probably put the former president into
Gracie Mansion, issues notwithstanding. If instead, Mayor Bloomberg ran
against a popular plumber from New York's Upper West Side, the sort of guy who
said he'd be over to fix your toilet at 4 p.m. and actually showed up, who'd
win? That's another story.
In directing his performers using Tom Schulman's screenplay, Donald Petrie sets
up a story that's partly analogous to the hypothetical one noted here, yet the
differences are telling ones. Petrie is dealing not with New York City but
with small-town America, where the office of mayoralty is largely ceremonial
and everyone in the village knows and has probably used the plumber who runs
the local hardware store as well. The plot centers on an unlikely election
campaign between the plumber (who has a dog appropriately named Plunger) and
the now-retired ex-president, whose dog is a Westie and who is said to have
been the most popular chief executive in history.
"Welcome to Mooseport" could have been a sharp, effective satire, plunging into
the waters of compromises and corruptions of the political scene, but Petrie
and Schulman either miss the boat or never even intended to dip their feet into
the muddy waters. The result: a sitcom which might find a place on network TV,
the characters actually hesitating after each joke or comic situation to allow
the mild laughs to subside before moving ahead.
Gene Hackman is slumming in this oh-so-slight work as former U.S. President
Monroe "Eagle" Cole," whose retirement to a summer home in Mooseport, Maine is
modeled after Bill Clinton's retreat to the far richer and more sophisticated
community of Chappaqua in New York. When the representative of the thrilled
townspeople of Mooseport (actually filmed in Port Perry, Ontario), asks Cole to
run for mayor, at first he demurs, but acceeds on the final day for filing when
he realizes campaigning for the job would prevent his voracious ex-wife
Charlotte (Christine Baranski), already in possession of his urban digs and his
boat, from seizing his small-town house as well. Though told he'd be unopposed,
he is surprised when the town's plumber, Harold "Handy" Harrison (Ray Romano),
files as well. The campaign, which includes two debates in the town hall,
gains the attention of the national media.
"Moosehead" is more in the tradition of romantic comedy than political satire.
Like Peter Segal's "50 First Dates," the laughs, such as they are, dominate the
first part of the story, the sentiment taking over in the conclusion. The
usual caricatures are on display, including the dedicated, secretly adoring
personal secretary, Grace Sutherland (Marcia Gay Harden); the tough but
opportunistic campaign manager, Bert Langdon (Rip Torn); the clueless PR
director Bullard (Fred Savage). The one three-dimensional figure with a
stellar performance is Maura Tierney in the role of Sally Mannis, the village
veterinarian. She's Handy's girlfriend for six years, unable to get a
commitment of marriage from the decent, reasonably intelligent but inarticulate
guy and therefore determined not to resist the flirtations of the ex-president.
(The restaurant date is bound to cause some fluttering in feminist circles,
given that Hackman is 72 to Tierney's 38.)
Chalk this one up as an opportunity lost: the cast and crew showing no
particular eagerness to raise the level of humor and especially satire beyond
the non-prime TV level.
Copyright © 2004 Harvey Karten