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Movie Review

Handy Harrison runs the local hardware store in tiny Mooseport, Maine. His long-time girlfriend, Sally, is a strong-willed veterinarian waiting impatiently for him to propose. The couple and their tranquil townsfolk get a jolt of pomp and circumstance when a popular American President retires full-time to a summer home in their midst.

Mooseport isn’t President Cole’s first choice. He has more contempt than affection for these “hicks.” But since his ex-First Lady got the family’s Baltimore estate in their highly publicized White House divorce, he is forced to make the best of things in podunkville. That’s where Sally catches his eye. And President Cole is used to getting what he wants.

It’s not enough that humble Handy must compete with the former leader of the free world for his girlfriend’s affections. Circumstances also pit the men against each other in a campaign to determine who’ll be the next mayor of Mooseport. It becomes a media circus. And although the prideful Cole and his advisors anticipate a slam-dunk victory, they find themselves in over their heads, confronted with an opponent unlike any they’ve ever encountered in their political careers—an honest man. Will that be enough to land Handy in public office? More importantly, will it be enough to recapture Sally’s heart?

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Positive Elements

Mooseport is a friendly town where people have a deeply engrained sense of community. Handy is called “a genuinely honest man.” He is kind and loyal. His integrity prohibits him from lying or being self-serving. In fact, his decision to pursue public office isn’t birthed from ambition, but a desire to help out when the previous mayor’s death creates an untimely void. He simply wants to solve problems and assist his neighbors. When Cole accuses him of being dishonorable, Handy is quick to defend his sterling reputation.

In contrast, the former President is vilified for his pride, greed and desire to use the mayoral race for his own aggrandizement. It’s a publicity stunt. His closest aide, Grace, chastises him for losing sight of the principles that attracted her to his camp in the first place. She accuses him of being seduced by ego and power (“You used to be better than that”), and resigns when she hears him tell his team to dig up dirt on Handy—or make it up if they don’t find anything.

At the end of her date with Cole, Sally rejects the President’s attempt to kiss her, offering him a handshake instead. The media has a field day with this. She comes off looking good and he doesn’t.

Despite their tumultuous relationship, Handy extends kindness to Cole and offers him tips to improve his golf game. In return, Cole tells Handy that a study of his life revealed a weakness: playing it safe. He advises him to take more risks, using aggressive golfing as an analogy (“Sometimes you’ve just got to go for the green”). Various people make sacrifices for the greater good. Handy’s decency rubs off on Cole, who publicly confesses that he broke his word to voters even though he realizes his confession could cost him the race.

The film condemns cheating by putting the President (unaware that his aides had been “helping” his golf game for years) on the links against Handy in an embarrassingly legitimate contest.

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

One scene features copulating pooches. Twice the camera lingers on the rear nudity of a male streaker. An elderly woman uses sexually charged terms such as “horn dog” and “booty poodle” to describe people.

Subtle comments imply that Handy and Sally share a sexual relationship. He also suggests that they shower together. On two occasions, Handy covertly looks up Sally’s dress to determine what kind of underwear she has on. Fearing that President Cole could make a play for Sally on their first date, Handy gives her a pair of panties with a “no sex” warning on the crotch. A reporter crassly asks Sally if she and Cole have had sex. The former First Lady grabs a man’s backside. Couples kiss passionately.

Violent Content

President Cole entertains thoughts of stabbing his ex-wife with a kitchen knife. Handy gets hit with a golf ball. During a scuffle, one man gets punched in the mouth and another is clobbered with a ladder.

Crude or Profane Language

About two dozen profanities in all. Among them are one s-word, one misuse of Jesus’ name, and a half-dozen exclamations of “for God’s sake” or “I swear to God.” A woman disparagingly refers to Mooseport as “Turdport.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

In an offhanded comment, the President admits to having grown marijuana. He drinks liquor several times. Handy downs beers, and gets intoxicated, at a bar. To battle stress, Sally and Grace add booze to their coffee and eventually polish off the whole bottle (they both end up drunk). Patrons at a restaurant consume wine with dinner.

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

The big question going into this movie was, “Can the Emmy-winning star of CBS’ Everybody Loves Raymond make an effective jump to the big screen?” Judging from Welcome to Mooseport, the answer is “yes”—provided he plays the same basic character, has a fairly decent script and continues to be surrounded by a top-notch cast. The comedian’s first onscreen role (after voicing a wooly mammoth in Ice Age) supports him with all three.

Handy Harrison is essentially Raymond’s Ray Barone transplanted from the suburbs into small-town Maine. He cracks wise with the same needy self-awareness, insecurely breaking eye contact and verbally tripping over himself to correct every faux pas. He’s an average Joe. A browbeaten underdog. Whether struggling to hold his own amidst a domineering family on TV, or against a formidable rival and disgruntled girlfriend in Mooseport, Romano is no more intimidating to those around him than Gary Coleman applying for a starting job with the L.A. Lakers. He’s out of his league, which is precisely where the comedian excels.

Also playing to Romano’s strengths is a screenplay by Tom Schulman that approximates the writer/producer’s work on What About Bob? Like that comedy, this one has heart, a moral compass and an affection for the people onscreen ... including the “bad guy.” Just as Schulman had audiences despising Richard Dreyfuss’ narcissistic psychiatrist, only to make him sympathetic at pivotal points, he does the same here with Gene Hackman’s egocentric President Cole. That gives us two main characters to connect with, taking pressure off of Romano to carry the picture. Which leads me to the excellent cast ...

Gene Hackman is one of the premiere actors of his generation. He proves it again as the former U.S. President who can be despicable one minute and noble the next without it seeming like a huge contradiction. Surrounding him are Harden as his trusted advisor and moral conscience, the elegantly shrewish Baranski as his greedy ex-wife, and Torn as a conniving campaign manager. Once again, Tierney (Liar Liar) is good as the frustrated love interest loathe to put up with her leading man’s immature shenanigans. Even Fred Savage is fun to watch as the presidential aide punished like a child for bearing bad news.

Is Welcome to Mooseport brilliant cinema? No. But it’s a comely comedy that campaigns hard for personal integrity. By today’s PG-13 standards, families could do a lot worse. Had it reined in the profanity and sexual intimations—and eliminated the streaker altogether—it could have earned a PG and a recommendation.

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Profanity/Violence

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