Movie Review: Middle Men (2010)

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Luke Wilson in Middle Men
Photo: Paramount Pictures

Talk about Filmmaking 101; Middle Men is a would-be interesting story saddled with cliched trailer music and obnoxious voice over describing everything you see on screen as if you didn’t have eyes and a brain of your own. This is a film where the straight men play it straight and everyone else plays it way over the top, and it’s all too bad because this is a story that really could have turned a few heads had it been handled differently.

Producer Christopher Mallick, of whom the story is loosely based, describes the film in the press notes as something of a Wall Street-like feature only instead of having to do with the stock market it’s dealing with the porn industry. Of course, as he points out, it’s not about porn. He likes to say it’s about greed, which it is for some parties involved, but for the most part it’s about sheer stupidity.

The film gets kick-started when an ex-veterinarian and disgraced NASA employee, Wayne (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck (Gabriel Macht) respectively, figure out how to collect money over the Internet from anyone, anywhere in the world. This, of course, is all in an effort to collect money from people accessing porn, but this is what Mallick meant by it not necessarily being a story about porn, and he’s right.

Wayne and Buck, however, aren’t exactly working with a full deck. They may be smart when it comes to technology and never underestimating how horny men can be, but they aren’t exactly business smart. Drugs, poor spending habits and a deal with a Russian mobster gets them into a bit of trouble. Cue Jack Harris (Luke Wilson), a corporate fixer who’s made a name for himself getting troubled businesses back on the right track.

Despite turning things around for Wayne and Buck, and working things out with the Russians, Jack soon finds himself embedded in the business. While this means plenty of money, the decision comes with a new set of morals, takes him away from his wife (Jacinda Barrett) and child back in Texas and becomes the crux of the story.

I’m obviously only giving you the bare bones here in an effort not to spoil it for you, but I hope you can see there is a story worth telling here. Not only is it enlightening and interesting, but it’s got built-in sex appeal. Every day people send their credit card numbers off into the digital world, but did they know it all started because of porn? Where Middle Men gets this intriguing story wrong is to tell it to you as if it was story time in grade school with “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” playing in the background. I wanted to take my lunch box and go home.

Director George Gallo’s musical choices here are atrocious and generic at best. I’m talking about the stereotypical trailer songs such as the Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” and “California Love” by 2Pac. Middle Men marks the second time in two years you’ll hear Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams” in a movie, but I will admit Moby’s “Body Rock” is used wisely in an orgy scene tracking shot.

Then there are the performances. While Wilson holds things together quite well, his voice over is entirely unnecessary and takes away from the work he’s putting into his performance. Ribisi and Macht turn things all the way up to an 11 in each and every scene to the point it’s exhausting, and you could feel the boredom in their performances from the moment their characters are introduced. James Caan even hams it up in his role as a sleazy Las Vegas lawyer.

Everything said, the many problems this film faces all originate from the framework of the script, co-written by Gallo and MTV series “Punk’d” writer Andy Weiss, who first wrote a draft of the story as a proposed television pilot. That would’ve probably been the right direction to go considering his safe and simple approach to the material. No risks were taken with this script, which means it’s like watching an hour-long TV drama stretched 40 minutes too long.

Where’s the story heading next? Not only will you see, but Luke Wilson will tell you using voice over. What’s going on in the room next door? Not only will you hear the conversation, but, again, voice over will reiterate what you’ve heard. This film should’ve been accompanied by milk and cookies it’s such a childish approach to the material, and considering we’re talking about a story built around the porn industry that just feels icky.

Middle Men could’ve been great, and perhaps one day this story will be done right. More talented individuals could tackle this material and really get something good out of it considering it’s got all the necessary requirements: sex, drugs, murder, backstabbing, mobsters and adultery. The key is to twist that into a story rather than a PowerPoint presentation.

GRADE: C