Middle Men

19 Aug

Title: Middle Men
Year: 2010
Director: George Gallo
Writers: George Gallo and Andy Weiss
Starring: Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht, James Caan, Laura Ramsey, Jacinda Barrett, Kelsey Grammer, Terry Crews, Kevin Pollak
MPAA Rating: R, strong sexual content, nudity, language, drug use and violence
Runtime: 105 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 44%

The script of Middle Men is what ends up hurting this film, because this one really could have been rather good had the screenplay been solid, and I was sorta bothered by that fact, especially because every single castmember, especially Luke Wilson, gives a good performance. But alas, the great ensemble piece this one had the potential to turn out to be was ultimately thwarted be a weak script.

I guess this one will earn some comparisons to Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 masterpiece, this one being the internet-age equivalent of that one, but Boogie Nights is a true masterpiece, while this one is just decent enough, entertaining but with some considerable flaws, so the comparison ends with the theme and both of them being amusing hard-R films.

The film is essentially about how online pornography came to be, about the online billing companies designed for the many men who in the early stages of internet dominance were willing to put out their credit cards for some pornography on their monitors. And as just that the film works, it combines the thematic material of the aforementioned Boogie Nights with some of the characteristics that gave the gritty and ambitious look to another great 90’s film, Martin Scorsese’s Casino. As I said before, this one isn’t nearly as perfect as Boogie Nights was, nor is it as good as Casino for that matter, but it is pretty damn entertaining and interesting how director George Gallo tells the true story of how one of the internet’s most prominent businesses came to be.

But, as I won’t tire of saying when I discuss this film, the script was what prevented it from being truly great. The aforementioned Boogie Nights had an Oscar-nominated screenplay (Paul Thomas Anderson lost to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Good Will Hunting that night), and Casino had a pretty solid screenplay, too. And though the huge scope and big ideas are all there on screen, the script for Middle Men does absolutely nothing to make these concepts come across as genuine or effective, and it all gets lost on a film that uses over-used techniques in these sort of films, such as voice-overs, to no real benefit.

The stories are all over the place and can’t get tied up in any sort of coherent way, I mean, this is a film that tries to tell too much stuff out of an extensive topic, and that just can’t be done in an under-two-hours feature film, and the voice-over seems too epic for a film that really isn’t, though, as I said, the guy that does all the talking, Jack Harris, is played by Luke Wilson in what is definitely one of the better performances he’s ever given.

Jack is a guy we get presented to as a stand-up family guy, but once we get to see a bit more of him, and see the many shades under which Mr. Wilson plays him we get to know that this is a guy that has some dark stuff going around, and that, even though he does indeed love his family, will do quite a lot to fulfill the aspirations he has for himself and his wife, played by a wonderful Jacinda Barrett.

This is a story we know all to well from different sort of films, the guy that is just a straightup guy with some ambitions, he finds something that will fulfill them and then some, but to pursue that opportunity he must compromise some stuff, and he most likely won’t know when to stop. But to see it based on internet pornography, a much more modern phenomenon, is pretty entertaining, and it’s based on true events, on the guys that invented anonymous credit card billing to get photos scanned from porn magazines on your computer. Jack is hired to manage the up-and-coming business, but they quickly start making more money than they know what to do with, and start venturing into far more perilous situations that, at one point or another, actually involve the Russian mob and a kidnapping.

Middle Men is a film I sincerely enjoyed, and I would probably give good word about it if someone asked me about it, but if I had to pinpoint one problem is that it dealt with both the implications of getting involved in such a business, and of the new age of pornography, but it dealt with both of these topics in a sort of mild-mannered way, and I would have much rather have had the film ditch one of those topics for exploration in exchange for a full-depth insight into the other, and not just be in between of the two not really going deeply into either, that’s another thing that separated this one from the masterpiece that Boogie Nights was. But yeah, while Boogie Nights it’s not, this one’s still a pretty okay film that boasts a great performance and introduces a topic that strangely enough hasn’t been exploited that much in films, and that actually has a helluva lot of potential so, if only for that, Middle Men is worth a shot.

Grade: B-

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