“When the going gets tough, give up”, is what a presumably wise man once told Gene Hackman. Perhaps it was his agent or his financial adviser after taking a look at the books. To conquer it all, to reach the great peak and touch the sun, it is hard to consider what comes next. Where is there to go when you are at the highest rung? A twilight year can-can of Academy Awards darlings and a respectable final decade as the man audiences and critics alike come hand in hand to praise, puff-up and plead with for more? Or, as Hackman decided, the only acceptable consequence of having it all is to lumber your way into a leading role alongside Everybody Loves Raymond Romano and drift peacefully off into the sunset of retirement to spend the rest of your days writing short novels and narrating war documentaries. Quite the well-deserved break for the titan of Hollywood, but he had just enough time to cough in the mouth of his loving fans with Welcome to Mooseport.
Trying to capture the small-town feel of the great American spirit, Welcome to Mooseport is horrifying. A simulation crafted by and including aliens from another planet, who attempt to offer some semblance of humanity. They fail entirely, and intercut between early scenes of Hackman enjoying his retirement but getting paid to quip a few lines on the golf course, the cracks show almost immediately. Donald Petrie, a director whose name will be known to few and fewer now since this, of all films, was the one that nipped his prospects in the bud. My Favourite Martian and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days clearly not the best example of “strength to strength”, but Welcome to Mooseport manages to throw toilet humour, dog sex and artificial community spirit into the mixture rather immediately.
Enamoured by the President of the United States, or rather, former President, being a new civilian in the sleepy, close-knit town, Welcome to Mooseport shows a bumbling but kooky loser, loved by all except the new dog on the block. They duke it out as feebly as can be expected for a man banking off of a hit TV show and a man who was mere weeks away from retirement. Hackman and Romano sharing the screen is such an odd clash of acting ideals. The two are strong in other projects, their unique abilities of working with or against the screen have their equal highs and lows, Welcome to Mooseport merely highlights the bad in both of them. Hackman is lazy and tired; Romano is awkward and cliché without any reason to be. It is the awful, faux sentimental terror of the early 2000s, and it would linger forevermore, like a spoiled oyster on the tongue of a sleep-deprived fool.
And so, we say farewell and Godspeed to the man who gave us The French Connection, The Conversation, and memories to last a lifetime. To steal the thunder from some of his best work, Hackman remains “unforgiven” after this final piece. Welcome to Mooseport has the novel value of featuring an out of place star and a comedian who was attempting his inevitable push toward the big screen. Neither come out looking too good, the spoils of war are minimal and the conflict between the two is futile, unnecessary and bland. A bit like the film as a whole, then.