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Welcome to Mooseport

Stay Away from this Town

Ray Romano is the star of one of America's top sitcoms. What is it about Raymond, anyway? Is it his flawless line delivery? His Everyman appeal? His snappy, quick wit? Whatever it is, Ray Romano was tapped to star opposite Gene Hackman in Welcome to Mooseport, and the results are nothing short of nondescript.

In a nutshell, here's what happens. Hackman is Monroe Eagle Cole, the most popular president since Jack Kennedy. Monroe, or The Eagle, has just divorced his botox-heavy wife (Christine Baranski) and is freshly retired from politics. But not for long. In the divorce, The Eagle has had to relinquish his home in Baltimore and therefore lands, post-retirement, in his beautiful "summer home" in Mooseport, Maine.

Also living in Mooseport is Romano, who plays a dorky hardware store owner and handyman named Handy Harrison. Handy wears L.L. Bean flannels, just like everyone in Maine. And Handy actually has the pleasure of fixing The Eagle's toilets as one of his jobs.

Mooseport is a small town with a big problem. Their mayor has just died, throwing the town into a political vacuum of epic proportions. (Note: that lame attempt at sarcasm on this editor's part is funnier than anything in Mooseport.) In any case, the town needs a mayor, and nobody in town has volunteered to run! Whatever will they do?

So the town council asks The Eagle if he wants to run. Handy's girlfriend Sally (Maura Tierney) is the deciding factor; The Eagle has found his prey. Obviously Handy isn't going to sit around and watch this go down, so Handy runs for mayor against The Eagle. It becomes a national spectacle, and The Eagle brings in his old campaign manager (Rip Torn) to make sure he wins. All of his speaking engagements and book deals will go by the wayside if the former president can't beat some monotonal hayseed from Maine in a mayoral election.

Therein lies the carefully constructed plot into which director Donald Petrie (Richie Rich, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days) weaves the phantom (if not nonexistent) humor. Romano and Hackman have zero onstage chemistry, and the romantic subplots seem to have been devised by sixth grade virgins.

Maybe it's the lack of a laugh track to convince me that the zingers Ray delivers are funny, but I just didn't find Handy the least bit funny. Most blue-collar workers seem to have a certain toughness, but Handy seems like someone whose ass is easy to kick. And Hackman makes for a loutish, petty president. No chemistry!

The jokes are geriatric, the plot is nondescript, and the movie's depiction of small town Maine is completely off the mark. I wish I hadn't used up all of my fecal jokes on The Butterfly Effect.

Stars: 1 out of 5