August 10, 2010

Movie Review: Middle Men

middle_men_posterOn the surface this is a story of the excess found at the dawn of the .com boom of the 1990's. It is a big flashy story about a couple of smart but very dumb people who stumble upon a new business model, let get to their heads, get in over the heads, live large, and go on to lose it all. It is a tale of life in the adult entertainment industry and how it can destroy as many lives as it makes. In a way, this is all very true, Middle Men does tell that story; however, there is more to it. This is also a movie about the evolution of the internet and the little idea that truly kick started the evolution of how the internet is used. Without this seed of an idea where would the internet be? Yes, that may be a bit drastic, but sometimes it is that small idea that blossoms into something much, much bigger.



It is true that this film is based on a true story, just do not be fooled into believing that this is the real story. A better word to use would be "inspired." I have a strong suspicion that the bigger picture framework is the truth while the more specific details have been somewhat amped up and made a bit more dramatic. It is the details that make the movie interesting and very watchable, while the implications of the big picture are what have a real world basis.

While the story and the idea that spawned it is quite interesting, the movie starts off a little oddly, picks up steam rather quickly, but then deflates as we move towards the conclusion. It is an odd arc that the film momentum takes. The first half of the film focuses on the birth of the idea, the initial execution, and subsequent cleaning up of said execution and the blow up in their shred success. The latter half of the film chronicles the inevitable downfall (we all remember the dot com crash, right?), but the focus also shifts away from the big personalities and onto the smaller ones, namely Luke Wilson's Jack Harris. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it does make the proceedings feel a little more conventional.


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Let's go back to the beginning. The opening moments of Middle Men packs a lot of information in a rather short period of time. We get a lot of narration from Luke Wilson as we meet our brain characters Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht), we meet the Russian mob you should not make deals with, and the girls they like to look at. The players are put in place, volatile personalities are revealed, and we put our focus on Jack Wilson.

Middle Men is features a film-noir set up and an execution that brings Scorsese and Tarantino to mind. It doesn't live up to the noir greats nor the output of the two invoked directors. What it does do is keep the story moving, always presenting us with threats from the Russians, fear from the FBI, ad a parade of naked and nearly naked women. Then there is Jack, the level headed guy who enters into the adult business while never wanting to be a part of it. His eyes are wide open to what he wants rather than to what could happen. By the end, he has left his wife for a young porn star (Laura Ramsey), he is taking money to the Russians, and he may just lose his life.

It is an involving story, although we can see clearly from the start what he does not. The flashy parties, the money, the women, it can be quite seductive even when you seem steadfast to avoid it. We all know it is just a matter of time.


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While Jack Wilson holds the clothesline upon which everything else is hung, he is definitely not the flavor of the movie. The flavor is definitely supplied by the supporting cast. The pair of Ribisi and Macht are pretty hilarious as our moronic duo. They may have had the idea and been able to make an initial implementation, but they are far from business savvy and can barely take care of themselves. It is their collective stupidity, substance abuse, and paranoia that help surge the plot forward. They are a riot as they play with their money and make bad business decisions.

Also among the entertaining supporting cast are James Caan as a low life lawyer and Rade Serbedzija as the head of the Russian mob. They are both important cogs in the wheel that make this movie go. Finally there is Laura Ramsey who plays Audrey Dawns, the porn star Jack cheats with. She is an interesting character who seems to be a bit more than is on the surface, or perhaps it is less.

George Gallo (Midnight Run, Codename: The Cleaner) directed and co-wrote the film with Andy Weiss (Punk'd). They do a good job of telling an interesting story that feels as real as it does unreal. There is good pacing and despite the weaker last third or so is definitely a solid film.

Bottomline. Technology change spurred on by the porn industry by a couple of dopes with the guidance of an outsider with no interest in being an insider. Sounds like a good story right? I guess it does not necessarily sound all that appealing, and that is what makes this movie a success. It is entertaining.

Recommended.

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