Title: Middle Men
Directed by: George Gallo
Nudity, drugs and several big-name stars in a film “inspired by true events.” While normally these three things are the perfect combination for a big summer hit movie, the new film ‘Middle Men,’ starring Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, James Caan and Kevin Pollak, falls short on its promises to deliver box office success. Even though marketed as being based on the experiences of producer Christopher Mallick, potential audiences weren’t told much else about the limited-release movie in advance, and will likely forget about as quickly as they forget his name.
‘Middle Man’ follows a mid-1990s businessman, Jack Harris (played by Wilson), who agrees to help a struggling friend and start up a Los Angeles nightclub. While Jack was only supposed to leave his wife Diana (played by Jacinda Barrett) and their two young children behind in Houston for a few weeks, Jack decides to stay in L.A. when the club starts to make a profit in an effort to help his struggling family.
Jack then teams up with two smart slackers, Wayne Beering (played by Ribisi) and Buck Dolby (played by Gabrel Macht), to build the first online billing company. The company sells pornography online, but puts nondescript charges on people’s charge cards so that more people will be willing to buy a subscription. After becoming some of the wealthiest entrepreneurs of the late ’90s and early 2000s, the three try to protect their lives while dealing with Russian mobsters, led by Nikita Sokoloff (played by Rade Šerbedžija), their business partner and a club owner; porn stars, including internet sensation Audrey Dawn (played by Laura Ramsey); and the FBI.
Director George Gallo, who co-wrote the film with Andy Weiss, seemed to have wanted to model ‘Middle Men’ after other cult drug-induced movies based on “true stories,” such as the 1998 Johnny Depp-lead biopic ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’ But Gallo failed to capture the spark and intensity of these other movies by over-saturating it with too many characters and sub-plots. Constantly introducing supporting and minor characters, including Audrey, FBI agent Curt Allmans (played by Pollak) and lawyer and fellow businessman Jerry Haggerty (played by Caan), the audience is left confused on what ties Jack had with each one.
Gallo and Weiss also decided to explain almost half of the movie through off-camera monologues by Jack. The two seemed to follow other filmmakers who don’t like having their characters state obvious, minor details on screen in an effort to speed up the action. But the fact that Gallo and Weiss couldn’t come up with more creative ways to explain Jack’s relationships and comings and goings without the extensive use of these monologues can leave viewers questioning their imaginations.
The constant use of nudity and drug use also lowered the integrity of ‘Middle Men.’ While the movie is about the men heading a pornography business, the continuous use of nudity easily distracted the audience from concentrating from the real purpose of the movie. The audience almost forgot by the middle of the movie that Wayne and Buck, two men without any real motivation in life, helped mold how people use the internet today.
People interested in seeing how internet pornography came to be what it is today may be interested in seeing what ‘Middle Men’ is all about. But fans of the movie’s serious actors, including Caan and Kelsey Grammer, who played a Houston politician, may question why they decided to star in such a nudity-filled, under-developed movie. Oxymoron Entertainment and Mallick Media, ‘Middle Men’s studio and distributor, shouldn’t expect to earn back much of the movie’s budget, especially in its opening weekend, as it’s in limited release against more teen and young adult-friendly films.
Written by: Karen Benardello