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Middle Men

Bringing XXX to the WWW

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Back in days of yore (circa 1995), enjoying porn 24/7 was a mind-boggling proposition. Porn consumption was often restricted to those with a VCR — that’s a video cassette recorder for the uninitiated — and sufficient privacy to enjoy said genre without embarrassment. You also had to get the tapes, which couldn’t always be done discreetly.

There were a few barriers to entry, so to speak. The advent of the Internet changed everything, and porn was revolutionized. In the middle of this paradigm shift was Jack Harris (Luke Wilson), who helped two drug-addled morons (savants?) (Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht) turn their brilliant idea to charge people for masturbatory material into a porn gold rush. Middle Men is the story of this gold rush and of Jack Harris’ journey from family man to business icon and celebrity within the tawdry and drug-crazed porn industry.

Luke Wilson is plausible as the down-to-earth family man and Texan, Jack Harris. Seemingly enamored with his drop-dead wife, Diana Harris (Jacinda Barrett), and his two cute kids, it’s hard to envision Harris becoming a porn magnate. Yet, Harris gradually finds himself well on his way when he starts fraternizing with Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht), the two aforementioned drug-addled morons.

As believable as Wilson is as a down-to-earth family man, Giovanni Ribisi is equally believable as a seemingly manic, moronic, drug-crazed loser who just happens to find himself in the right place at the right time. Ribisi has played some version of this character countless times in his career,, and while it’s becoming a bit threadbare, he still does unhinged and strung out about as good as anyone.

Middle Men tells a story that never fails to entertain, but it never presents any real revelations or surprises. Naturally, Jack Harris struggles with the “normal” life he has back in Texas with Diana and the kids and his markedly different life of excess (in every way, shape, and form) in Los Angeles. Predictably, he falters, compromises, and finds himself veering off course a few times.

Director George Gallo has the chops for this kind of material having penned darker comedies such as Midnight Run, Bad Boys, and Bad Boys II. Gallo does a solid job with Middle Men, but the crescendo of Harris’ inner conflict between his life back home in Texas and his tawdry life in L.A. is telegraphed from the outset, which serves to undermine any building of tension.

But, in a summer filled with mostly lackluster, overblown blockbusters, Middle Men is generally a refreshing change of pace that more consistently than not keeps you engaged despite the predictable unfolding of the narrative — and who isn’t at least vaguely intrigued by the porn industry?