It happens more often than not that you run across a batch of movies every year that have a lot going for them. They are often entertaining, engaging and well acted, but when everything is said and done you just never feel the urge or need to ever watch it again. It’s not that anything was done terribly to the point you just don’t find any entertainment, it’s just that there wasn’t enough material within the script to keep you guessing or not enough punch to make it memorable. MIDDLE MEN is precisely that type of movie; acted well, humorous and has an interesting story to tell, they just don’t do enough with the material to make you care about it once the credits roll.
Jack (Luke Wilson) is just a regular guy trying to make a few bucks to support his family when an opportunity arises to help a couple of hot headed, drugged up and business ignorant entrepreneurs. Jack’s new partners, Wayne (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck (Gabriel Macht), came up with a program that charges credit cards over the internet for people subscribing to pornographic material and they created their own websites for people to subscribe to. They got in over their heads so Jack comes in and convinces them to use this program only in a billing company that works with other websites and acting as the middle man rather than producing content themselves. The idea makes each of them worth millions of dollars, but Jack soon finds that with money comes corruption and greed and also lands him in hot water with a Russian crime boss, the FBI and his own family.
MIDDLE MEN is precisely what its title suggests; it’s not ahead of the pack of today’s movies, it’s not below average, it sits comfortably in the middle. It’s well made, the story is interesting and the acting is all top notch. The problems come in with a conservative pace that doesn’t seem to move fast enough, even though we skips years through the timeline in a matter of seconds, It more or less fails at what a film like THE SOCIAL NETWORK exceeds at and that’s making the mundane aspects of online business exciting and sexy, which seems ridiculous given that the film deals in the business of pornography. It’s not until the last 45 minutes of the movie that my favorite aspects come into play. In the first hour or so of the movie Luke Wilson plays a character that is very laid back and passive while still being the brains of the operation, while Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht are the two fireworks snorting drugs, tweaking and breaking out into fights. In the final 45 minutes Wilson’s character finally starts showing more of a backbone and becoming much more interesting than he’d been to that point.
The movie looks good and has scenes of glamour here and there but despite its subject matter I don’t think the filmmaking does everything it could have. There seems to be a lot of wasted opportunity hidden behind almost every frame, which basically just leaves us with a film full of half realized potential. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the director was holding back and that makes a majority of the script feel somewhat restrained. With so much feeling held back it makes it a shame that they spend so much time flashing to guys sitting at their computer masturbating to porn on their computer, which was funny during the opening scenes and obnoxious every time they reach back in that bag at other points during the movie, especially when they start showing terrorists doing it and then emailing it to one another. The film is based off actual people which makes me think that the filmmakers had little interest in developing the more interesting aspects of the story and more on the humor in seeing someone masturbating on screen.
Aside from Wilson, Ribisi and Macht there is a plethora of recognizable faces in the film like James Caan, Kevin Pollack and Kelsey Grammar. Pollack and Grammar both have very small roles and I enjoyed the scene involving Kelsey Grammar quite a bit. Wilson does put on a good show and is the center of attention but I believe I enjoyed the friendship between Ribisi and Macht a lot more. James Caan also gives a good if abbreviated performance also until the last 45 minutes or so where he’s featured more than in the first hour. Abbreviated is probably the best word to describe the best parts of the film, because there are moments that the material really shines, they just don’t last long enough.
In the end MIDDLE MEN just isn’t quite as smart and sexy as it wants to be and the true life events it’s based on feel much more fictionalized than they rightfully should. It has flashes of both smart and sexy here and there but nothing that will have you looking or thinking twice about. I do think it is a decent slice of entertainment that warrants at least one viewing but ultimately it won’t be something you run out to tell your friends about.