When former President George Bush Sr. moved in next door to Homer Simpson, they came to all out war. When former President Monroe Cole (Gene Hackman) moves in next to small town guy Handy Harrison (Ray Romano) and tries to steal his girl, the best Handy can muster is a few half-hearted compliments and a mildly spirited round of golf.
Welcome to Mooseport is another one of those thin portrayals of small town life, with Mooseport being sort of a clone of the town from “Northern Exposure”, complete with pet moose. After a successful run at taking care of the country, US President Monroe Cole moves in to live out his remaining days in (what for him) passes for relaxation. Before he knows it, the not all that colorful locals quickly rope him into running for town mayor. Local handyman Handy Harrison ends up running against him, not so much because he cares about his town, but because he’s afraid the President might steal his girlfriend (Maura Tierney). A David and Goliath battle ensues, without any of stone slinging that made their original battle so much fun in the first place.
The problem isn’t really the people, who prove charismatic and likable. Gene Hackman is a certified screen god and his presence, even in the most deplorable of dreck, is absolutely electric. A somewhat dimwitted comedy like Welcome to Mooseport is no exception to this Hackman rule. Oddly enough, Romano proves a welcome compliment to Hackman’s scene chewing brilliance. He pals around with the same dim-witted charm that makes his TV show a success, playing basically the same character only without the burdensome wife and kids.
But Welcome to Mooseport just isn’t mean spirited enough to give us genuine small town comedy. Instead it substitutes a few aw-shucks gags and treads water while Hackman and Romano scrape bottom trying to find something funny. Mooseport is well meaning but tepid, failing to come up with anything worth remembering once you get back to your car.
Ray Romano deserves at least some credit for holding up his end pretty well in his first real big screen effort. Especially is this so in light of how little Mooseport’s script gives him to work with. He even holds his own against the greatness of Gene Hackman, managing to keep at least a little of our interest when anyone else might have lost us shortly after the opening credits. A nice effort from talented people that avoids being painful but never manages to go anywhere interesting. Give me a few more minutes and I’ll have forgotten all about Welcome to Mooseport.