The 2004 film comedy Welcome to Mooseport would probably be totally forgotten if not for one thing. This is the film that was supposedly so bad that co-star Gene Hackman looked at the final cut and then probably looked over at the Oscars he won for The French Connection and Unforgiven and then probably looked back at the final cut and then announced, “I quit!” There’s a reason why Hackman now spends his time writing novels and, according to most accounts, Welcome to Mooseport is that reason.
In Welcome to Mooseport, Gene Hackman plays Monroe “Eagle” Cole, the former President of the United States. From the minute we first hear the President’s name, we know exactly what type of film Welcome to Mooseport is going to be. It’s not enough to give Hackman’s a character a totally over-the-top name like Monroe Cole. He also has to have a cutesy nickname. The entire time I watched the film, I found myself wondering if Monroe Cole was listed on the presidential ballots as being Monroe “Eagle” Cole. Personally, I always find it funny when people feel the need to include their nickname in the credits. Is it really important for every William out there to let everyone know that some people call him Billy?
Anyway, Eagle is apparently the most popular president ever. However, he’s also recently divorced and his ex-wife (Christine Baranski, playing the same role that she played in Bulworth) wants all of his property. Eagle is forced to retire to one of the few residences that he has left, his vacation home in Mooseport, Maine. In order to keep his wife from claiming that home, Eagle decides to run for mayor of Mooseport…
Now, right here, we’ve got a huge issue. Eagle’s only motivation for running for mayor is because he doesn’t want to have to give over his vacation home to his wife. But that could be anyone’s motivation. One does not have to be President to want to keep the house in a divorce. It would have been more interesting if Eagle, now out of office and struggling to adjust to no longer being the most powerful man in the world, ran for mayor because he really wanted the job.
But anyway, Eagle is not the only person running for mayor. Hardware store owner Hardy Harrison (Ray Romano) is also running. At first, Hardy wants to withdraw but then he sees Eagle flirting with Hardy’s longtime girlfriend (Maura Tierney) and Hardy suddenly decides that he’s going to run and he’s going to win.
I actually like Ray Romano as an actor and he doesn’t give a bad performance here. But, at the same time, it’s obvious that his scenes were written to capitalize on his TV persona. It’s easy to imagine stumbling across a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray runs for mayor and has a panic attack when he loses. The difference, of course, is that Ray Barone would not have been running against Gene Hackman (much less a former President).
Needless to say, Welcome to Mooseport has a sitcom feel to it. After every line, you find yourself waiting for a laugh track. Gene Hackman feels incredibly out-of-place in the film and there’s a discomfort to his performance. Watching him in this film, you can see the wheels turning in his brain. You can literally see Gene Hackman thinking, “I’m too old for this shit.”
And I guess he was because, in the 11 years since Welcome to Mooseport was first released, Gene Hackman has not appeared in another film. Which is bad news for everyone waiting for Welcome to Mooseport Part II…