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|The Moguls aka: The Amateurs
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir-scr Michael Traeger
with Jeff Bridges, Tim Blake Nelson, Joe Pantoliano, William Fichtner, Ted Danson, Patrick Fugit, Glenne Headly, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Steven Weber, Alex Linz, Lauren Graham, Valerie Perrine, John Hawkes, Brad Henke, Eileen Brennan, Isaiah Washington
release UK 28.Apr.06, US 7.Dec.07
05/US Qwerty 1h36
Ready for my close-up: Henke, Bridges and Hawkes
This film proves that a superb premise and a terrific ensemble cast aren't enough. Writer-director Traeger simply gets it completely wrong.
There's not much to do in the small town of Butterface Fields, and Andy (Bridges) has done nothing with his life. He feels like he's losing his son (Linz) to his ex's (Tripplehorn) rich new husband (Weber). He needs an achievement of his own. So he gathers his motley bunch of friends (Nelson, Pantoliano, Fichtner and Danson) with the idea that they make a porn movie. Of course, nothing goes as planned, from casting to filming to the premier itself.
Traeger's idea shows so much promise that we aggressively want the film to work. He also creates a superb gang of comical characters, most of whom are extremely well-played by the strong cast. Standouts are Pantoliano's loser writer-director and Headley's lonely heart. Where the film stumbles is in the fact that Traeger aims for a sweet, innocent tone where the subject matter screams for black, vicious comedy. This should really be Bad Santa, not Christmas With the Kranks.
For a film about amateur porn, it's ridiculous to shy so strongly away from both sex and nudity. An overwhelmingly embarrassed, prudish attitude completely undermines the story and characters. It's like a 10-year-old trying to pretend he's an adult, without knowing what he's talking about. All of the humour is sniggering innuendo and silly euphemisms, and the gags are merely goofy and corny, without any sense of irony or wit. Worst, perhaps, is the fake ignorance in Bridges' narration, in which he pretends to know far too little about filmmaking.
And there's more: Traeger seems to wallow (and revel) in the misery of these hapless losers. Brief moments of joy are followed by contrived frustration and endless humiliation (not to mention subtle misogyny, racism and homophobia). These characters never get a break. It's not real life disappointment; they're being tortured by the Great Screenwriter In The Sky. It's just too much. And the appallingly sloppy, moralistic finale doesn't rescue it.
Frank, Chicago: "This film is hilarious. The bumbling innocence of the filmmakers is exactly what makes this so enjoyable. The fact that there is no nudity or vularity in it, despite the subject matter, is what makes it work. Rather than sloppy, the ending is touching and perfectly in tune with the rest of this film. If it is released do not miss this film." (12.Jun.06)
MickY, email: "If you want to see what Boogie Nights would have been if Disney had its way, then see The Moguls." (7.Nov.07)
© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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