Review: Middle Men
If you fell in love with Luke Wilson in Old School only to find yourself cringing at the mere sight of him in those annoying AT&T commercials… well, I can’t blame you. But now’s the time to let him back into your life because he delivers a rousing performance in his new movie, which feels like the love child of Goodfellas and 21, conceived during one of those Boogie Nights. He gives the type of film-carrying performance we might expect from a credible leading man, but certainly not the guy most commonly referred to as “the other Wilson brother” or “the AT&T dude.”
Now, Middle Men is a bit uneven and not nearly as good as two of those aforementioned films (you can guess which two), but it tells a fascinating (somewhat) true story based on the life of Christopher Mallick, who serves as one of the movie’s producers. Contrary to what the advertisements might suggest, this is not a movie about the porn industry. Middle Men tells the story of the men who figured out a way to make the internet profitable. It just so happens that they were dealing in pornography.
The beginning of the movie, which is a confusing mess of anecdotes that jerks the viewer in all sorts of different directions, years, and parts of the country, takes us back to 1995. The internet was still fresh and yet to be explored, but two morons (Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht) become almost instant millionaires by simply scanning a few photos and writing a program that processes credit card transactions online. Ribisi and Macht are hilarious and play nicely off one another, but like I said… they’re morons.
That’s where Jack Harris (Wilson’s character) comes into play, and it’s also where director George Gallo becomes more confident in his material. Harris is brought in to turn this genius idea into a legitimate business venture before the two morons blow all their earnings on cocaine, cars and women. The problem is they’ve already dug themselves quite a hole by striking a deal with some Russian mobsters. The rest of the movie follows Harris as he sifts through the mob, the FBI, his own moral dilemmas, and the largest collection of silicone I’ve ever seen assembled for a feature film.
Middle Men is pretty formulaic for this type of story and its use of voiceover narration, especially in the opening act, is the most excessive I’ve seen (or heard?) since Twilight. There are some pretty lazy and predictable music choices, especially 2 Pac’s “California Love” and a few obvious selections from The Rolling Stones. There are other songs, like OMC’s “How Bizzarre” and Stone Temple Pilots’ “Down,” that are more effectively used to give the story a late ’90s period feel – probably because we haven’t heard them in over ten years.
Gallo attempts to tell this story with as much visual flair as possible, and I’m talking about more than just the abundance of nudity. The finest example is one particularly flashy (um, perhaps I should use a different word… nah) tracking shot that follows Harris walking through a mansion while a massive orgy is taking place. Still, the movie’s real strength is in the work of Wilson and the rest of its cast, which also features James Caan as a slippery lawyer and brief cameos from Kevin Pollack, Robert Forster and Kelsey Grammar.
It’s far from perfect but as far as Goodfellas imposters go, I’ll take the sleazy fun of Middle Men over the generic bore of Blow any day. Plus, it fills you in on the story of how the porn industry aided the U.S. government in tracking down a few sought after terrorists. Crazy, right? Who said porn was such a bad thing?
RIYL: Casino, 21, Boogie Nights.