Middle Men - Movie Review


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What do two dope-fueled idiots, the porn industry, and the Russian mob all have in common with the internet?  Luke Wilson.  Seriously.  And Wilson, as genuinely nice-guy Jake Harris, is not joking around.  Hell-bent on making money to support his family as a middle man between the porn industry and its customers while the getting is good, Harris quickly discovers that life in George Gallo’s Middle Men is less about the glamorous boogie and more about what remains lurking undercover of its nights.  Monsterously stealthy in its intrigue, Middle Men is a champ of movie that successfully combines the grit and charm of Goodfellas with the skinsational world wide web of internet pornography.

Jake Harris (Wilson) wants you to like him.  He has a wife, Diana (Jacinda Barret), whom he loves and a glorious family, too.  He also wants to believe that, circa 1995, he can be morally unchanged by his involvement with a premiere online billing operation as it services the porn industry and revolutionizes the internet.  Blown away by his calm demeanor and cool handling of some hair-raising situations, you’ll want to think that, too.  For awhile, but then, when the gorgeous purring of Audrey Dawn (Laura Ramsey) enters the picture, it becomes all too clear just how far the once straight-and-narrow Harris has fallen.

Pumped, then sucker punched by the hilarious reasoning of Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi, who damn near steals the picture with his coked-out paranoia) and Buck Dolby (a relatively subdued Gabriel Macht), Harris has a hard enough time keeping his wits about him.  When his own friend, James (Terry Crews) gets involved in the pornographic action, Harris finds himself stuck pioneering the way business runs on the internet by means of the Russian mob, led by Nikita Sokoloff (Rade Šerbedžija), and the FBI, headed by Curt Allmans (Kevin Pollak).  Based on a true story inspired by the film’s producer, Christopher Mallick, Middle Men has enough cinematic flair to get you inolved in the story and make you feel oogley all over.  Seriously, who knew naked chicks could be this dangerous?

Directed and co-written by Gallo (Midnight Run, Wise Guys, The Whole Ten Yards), Middle Men likes to try on the wigs and disguises of a Martin Scorsese picture.  It has the wicked back-and-forth span of a decade to play with; it has the brutal cinematography (courtesy of Lukas Ettlin); the interesting characters; the timeless soundtrack of popular tunes, but it comes up a little short on the acting end – with James Caan and Kelsey Grammar as the only “heavies” to make appearances.  Wilson might be the film’s center, but – with his deadpan look – it really becomes difficult to “see” his reasoning.  There’s nothing truly original with his performance.  Even his driving narration hearkens back to the Ray Liotta stylings of Goodfellas.

Still Middle Men manages to squeak by because we know - try as the film might to convince you otherwise - that Scorsese isn’t sitting behind the camera.  It’s the same genre, maybe even the same feel.  It’s just a different man at the helm; a different lens, if you will.  And, in spite of a flabby middle, the picture stands strong.  Call it Scorsese-lite if need be.  The fact is that Middle Men just might be Gallo’s best work behind the camera.  It’s intricately layered, full of richly vulgar dialogue and characters, and, if nothing else, just might save Wilson from those stupid AT&T commercials.

With the high of Middle Men wearing off, it’s safe to say that never before has peddling sleaze to the masses been so luminously intriguing.