Welcome To Mooseport

dir. Petrie

Opens Fri Feb 20

Various Theaters

There have been plenty of fine films about elections. The deeply cynical 1972 film The Candidate, for instance, stars Robert Redford as a lawyer smart enough to win a senate seat, but clueless as to how to be a senator. The bitterly smart Bob Roberts stars Tom Robbins as an ultra-conservative folk singer who cashes in his cult status for a seat in the U.S. Senate. In the gold-standard election film, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Jimmy Stewart plays a gee-shucks boy scout who pits his ethics against a corrupt political machine.

However, it's possible election movies have never been as benign as in Welcome To Mooseport, a tepid and entirely unoffensive comedy about a mayoral election in a small town. The set-up is simple: the extremely popular ex-President, Monroe "Eagle" Cole (Gene Hackman), moves to bumpkinville to bask in the afterglow of his White House tenure. The town sits in the backcountry of some undisclosed, remote northern state. Maine? Alaska? Oh, it doesn't matter.

Within hours of arriving, Hackman's plans to gracefully retire to pasture hit a bump in the road: He is asked to run for mayor! Allegedly, the complicating plot twist comes when a simple hometown boy and beloved hardware store owner, Handy Harrison (Ray Romano) also registers to run for mayor. But wait! There's one more twist: The mayoral race also doubles as a pissing contest to win the heart of Handy's girlfriend, the perfectly uninteresting Sally Mannis (Maura Tierney, ER). The two candidates allegedly butt heads like moose in heat, but their clashes are about as rowdy as thumb wrestling.

Neither the election nor the romance produces any sparks. The most scandalous fodder is a few underwear jokes. The only time the film rises past a G-rating is when an elderly lady refers to the girlfriend as a "booty poodle." Even the president's ex-wife, who is greedily battling the president for his fortunes, is, at best, a mild-mannered villain.

But that is, apparently, meant to be the charm of Mooseport. In an era when our president steals elections and lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction, this election movie's wearing blinders.