“Welcome to Mooseport” is like your mom’s
casserole. It’s something that is pretty good at the time,
but when it’s over, you don’t really need any more, and
you aren’t really all that filled up either. But hey, it took
up some time, right? Like it or leave it, “Mooseport”
is not a sharp, stinging political satire; instead, it’s a
broad comedy that is likely to generate several grins, but not
likely to have you going back for seconds.

Mira Levitan
Dammit Hackman, I though I had you with scissors this time. (Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

The tale begins as a popular U.S. president, Monroe “The
Eagle” Cole (Gene Hackman), returns to his summer home in the
fictional town of Mooseport after his term ends. He’s looking
for a nice place to settle down after losing his home to his wife
(Christine Baranski) in a divorce.

As the bitchy and proud-of-it former First Lady, Baranski does
not get much of an opportunity to show off her comedic talents;
she’s merely a plot device here, and it’s a shame
because she is a much underused actress. Hackman, on the other
hand, gets plenty of screen time, and he makes this picture so much
more bearable. The veteran actor can do this type of role in his
sleep, but it’s still fun to watch him bring life to a
potentially run-of-the-mill character.

When the townspeople of Mooseport persuade the former president
to run for mayor, he agrees, all the time thinking of how he can
improve his approval ratings and watch the book deals and
endorsements flow in. But when a local nice-guy plumber, Harold
“Handy” Harrison (Ray Romano) joins the race, the
ex-prez realizes he’s dealing with someone he has never dealt
with in real politics — a genuinely honest man.

Thus, what was thought to be an easy campaign becomes an all-out
war. This is Romano’s first foray into feature films, and
frankly, as a movie star, he’s a very good television actor.
He certainly holds the charm and gee-whiz demeanor that propelled
his TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond” to high ratings,
but he seems uncomfortable on the big screen. His brand of humor is
very likable while being completely harmless and innocuous at the
same time, but it might be too safe for a feature film.

The rest of the actors in the film try their hardest to work
with basically one-note characters, and most succeed. Oscar nominee
Marcia Gay Harden (“Mystic River”) gives a good
performance as a member of the president’s team, who may have
more than just platonic feelings for the big guy. And Maura Tierney
(“ER”) is winning as the woman caught between the two
candidates. Even Fred Savage has some humorous moments playing the
nervous Nellie he usually does.

As for the residents of Mooseport, they fall into the category
of “smalltown movie people who are too nice and quaint to
actually exist.” They are badly drawn caricatures of actual
people — people who have more than one emotion. But this
movie doesn’t really care about realism so much.

While “Mooseport” never generates any big belly
laughs, it never tries to. Instead, it is a very “nice”
movie, which will most likely elicit polite smiles from viewers. So
if you’re looking for a side-splitting laugh-fest, look
elsewhere. But if you just need a pleasant outing, take a trip to
Mooseport.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

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