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Thursday, Feb. 19, 2004 06:54 am

Movie Reviews

Welcome to Mooseport

Mooseport skewers the conventions of politics and media

Mooseport is an out-of-the-way burg in Maine that's besieged by the media when former president Monroe "Eagle" Cole (the unflappable Gene Hackman) decides to retire there. Content to reap millions from a lecture tour, he's sucked back into public life when given the opportunity to run for mayor. Inclined to shun the offer, he changes his mind after lovely local veterinarian, Sally (Maura Tierney), tells him to run. Hoping to impress her, Monroe throws his hat in the ring, prompting Sally's inattentive beau, Handy (Ray Romano), to enter the race as well. None of this sits well with Monroe's assistant, Grace (Marcia Gay Harden), who's secretly in love with her boss.

Welcome to Mooseport stumbles early as we suffer through the requisite parade of small town eccentrics and rubes. The convention that each town with a population less than 5,000 needs at least 20 citizens who have a screw loose needs to be retired permanently. Fortunately, the movie catches fire when ruthless campaign strategist Bert Langdon (played with the perfect balance of class and crassness by Rip Torn) and Monroe's gold digging ex-wife Charlotte (Christine Baranski) appear on the scene. The cynicism these two exude clashes with the values of Mooseport and generates some of the film's biggest laughs.

But what makes this genial satire worthwhile is how it skewers the conventions of media and politics. The press gets a thorough roasting for focusing on minutiae when Monroe's date with Sally becomes the lead story on the news. And the ridiculous behind-the-scenes strategizing, resulting in both men trying to lose the race, would come off as even more absurd if it didn't have the ring of truth.

In this fight, the clichés trade pucnches with the sterotypes

After getting down and dirty earlier this year in Jane Campion's In the Cut, Meg Ryan successfully shed the girl-next-door image that threatened to end her career. Too bad, the script of Against the Ropes -- a fictionalized account of America's most famous female boxing promoter Jackie Kallen -- isn't as fresh as Ryan's performance.

What we have here is another old-fashioned boxing flick, chockfull of stereotypes and clichés. There's Kallen's loutish boss (Joe Cortese), whose chauvinistic behavior is exceeded only by the crooked boxing manager (Tony Shaloub), who sells Kallen a fighter for a buck. That brawler proves to be overpriced, but Kallen stumbles across a young boxer (Omar Epps) just looking for his lucky break. He ends up being coached by, you guessed it, a retired trainer (the film's director Charles S. Dutton) who decides to give the sport one last chance.

The cast does what it can to breathe life into this tired effort. Granted, the journey Kallen takes -- employing her femininity to get through the door of the boxing world, only to find herself ending up as boorish as her male rivals -- is engaging and well-handled. Unfortunately, this is the only original element in the film and it's undercut by an implausible set of circumstances during the film's climax during the "big fight."

The only thing missing -- and let's all give thanks here -- is the "boxer-tragically-killed-in-the-ring" routine.

What other critics are saying. . .

Along Came Polly [PG-13] Ben Stiller plays a man who's afraid of risk. But he makes his living analyzing risk, gets involved in a risky romance, and cheats on his wife."A movie that sets its comedy bar too low for the talents involved." (Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter) ShowPlace West

Barbershop 2: Back in Business [PG-13] Spend another day with the crew at Calvin's [Ice Cube] barbershop on Chicago's South Side. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace West

Big Fish [PG-13] Son learns more about his dying father by reliving his father's stories and myths. "Big Fish is Tim Burton's masterpiece." (Glenn Whipp, L.A. Daily News) ShowPlace West

The Butterfly Effect [R] Evan (Ashton Kutcher), mourning the death of his girlfriend, finds he can go back in time and change the future. But every change he makes goes wrong. "Dreary and overfamiliar." (Dennis Lim, Village Voice) ShowPlace West

Catch That Kid [PG] Katie loves to climb, but her father's forbidden her because of an accident he had that paralyzed him. Desperate for money for an operation to help her dad, Katie and her two best friends plan to rob the bank where her mother works. "A stale, overbudgeted child-empowerment fantasy that's every bit as excruciating as the director's previous work." (Ben Kenigsberg, Village Voice) ShowPlace West

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen [PG] Lola's family moves from New York City to the burbs in New Jersey. Lola sets her sights on winning the lead in a school play while fantasizing about her favorite rock group. When she gets word the group's disbanding, she pulls out all the stops to make their farewell concert. Not reviewed. Parkway Pointe,ShowPlace East

Eurotrip [R] Scotty's German online pen pal suggests they meet. When he discovers she's gorgeous, he and three friends head out after graduation to meet her. Their European trip is fraught with comical misadventures. Not reviewed. ShowPlace West,ShowPlace East

50 First Dates [PG-13] Veterinarian Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) enjoys dating women on vacation, but leaves his playboy life after he meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore). Alas, Lucy suffers from short-term memory loss, forcing Henry to woo her every day. ShowPlace East, ShowPlace West

The Gospel of John [PG-13] The story of Jesus, narrated by Christopher Plummer. "Feels like the longest Sunday school class ever." (Chris Hewitt, St. Paul Pioneer Press) Parkway Pointe 

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [PG-13] Final part of trilogy, as hobbits Frodo and Sam journey to Mount Doom in Mordor. "As a model for how to bring substance, authenticity and insight to the biggest of adventure yarns, this trilogy will not soon, if ever, find its equal." (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times) ShowPlace West

Miracle [PG] The story of the U.S. hockey team that beat the favored Soviet team in the 1980 Winter Olympics, then went on to win the gold. "An effective exercise in flag-waving nostalgia." (Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune) ShowPlace West,ShowPlace East

Something's Gotta Give [PG-13] Fifty-something Erica Barry (Diane Keaton) plays reluctant host to her daughter's 60-something boyfriend, Harry (Jack Nicholson), and sparks fly. "Something's Gotta Give can be formulaic, but watching the incandescent Nicholson and Keaton, all loose and funny and sharing jokes about reading glasses, is a rare treat." (Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution) ShowPlace West

The Statement [R] The story of a Nazi executioner who become the target of hit men and police investigators. "A surprisingly mild thriller, one that meanders and spasms dramatically, and that, despite its occasional outburst of violence, wastes a cast of ordinarily superb actors." (John Anderson, Newsday) Parkway Pointe

You Got Served [PG-13] Documents the competitive world of street dancing. "On the checklist of things a movie should offer, like character development, dialogue with subtext and plausibility, You Got Served is more like You Got Screwed." (Jami Bernard, New York Daily News) ShowPlace East

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