Middle Men

Middle Men

Film review by: Witney Seibold

 

“Why you think the ‘Net was born? Porn! Porn! Porn!”

-Lyric from “Avenue Q”

Back in the early 1990s, Wayne Beering and Buck Dolby, a porn-addicted creep and a coked-up ex NASA hopeful respectively, thought to sell pornography on the nascent internet. Beering thought to take credit card numbers, and Dolby, an idiot savant, actually wrote the program. Within weeks, they were rich beyond their wildest dreams, and, since they were both idiots about it, found themselves greatly in debt with the Russian mob. A fellow by the name of Jack Harris was called onto the case by a lawyer friend, and invented the first internet billing company, essentially allowing porn subscribers to maintain billing anonymity. Some analysts, I have learned, cited this trio as being responsible for allowing the internet to thrive the way it did. It’s not hard to believe that porn was what really got the internet started. Eventually these three found themselves up to their ears in debt and ill will, having made all kinds of dumb decisions and having associated with many unsavory characters. Beering and Dolby went to prison.

George Gallo‘s new film “Middle Men,” recounts this story. It’s largely a straightforward telling with some good performances along the way. Gallo throws in some obnoxiously stylized elements which only serve to distract from the material, gives us some frustrating moralizing, and leads us along with an extraneous narration by Luke Wilson, but the economic storytelling, and chops of some unexpected heavy-hitters like James Caan, Kevin Pollack, Robert Forster, Rabe Serbedzija, and an uncharacteristically energetic Giovanni Ribisi (who seems to have escaped from a Mamet film), and the douchey Gabriel Macht, keep us delightfully afloat and entertained.

 

Let’s start with the film’s biggest flaw. Wilson is a good actor, and in the scenes where he is asked to be level-headed and intelligent, he sells his part. You can see Jack Harris’ innate need to solve a problem, despite the fact that he’s dealing with gangsters and seedy pornographers. He is indeed level-headed, and even when he needs to charge into a sex party to shoot a guy in the foot, we know that it’s mere professional resolve leading him to do so. Sadly, when it comes time for Harris to be soulful and torn, Wilson kind of falters; he’s living a double life, having an affair with a porn star (Laura Ramsay, whom I last saw in “She’s the Man”), and trying to decide whether or not Jerry (Cann) is his friend, and all he can do is sit in dark rooms wincing. There’s no indicator as to how he feels about all this, and which life he prefers. It’s not until late in the film that he begins making hollow platitudes about the positivity of living a nice calm family life with his wife (Jacinda Barrett), and it rings false. Indeed, it begins to sound like the film is looking down on every one of its characters, and for fleeting moments, almost seems patronizing.

The other big flaw was the film’s equally patronizing opening. The directors seems to feel the need to indicate to the boys and girls in the audience that there was once no Internet, and people talked on the phone and read out of maps and phone books, and isn’t that quaint? I’m no old-timer, but I do remember a time without an Internet, and I don’t think the film needs to talk down to us. Unless this R-rated film is trying to bag the 15-year-old market. Hm…

But those are the only stumbling blocks in an otherwise entertaining and largely funny and informative film. James Cann, it should be pointed out, is one of the best actors working, and when he’s asked to recite otherwise typical lines of dialogue like “How come you didn’t give me my cut?”, he lends it s heft few actors of capable of. And, like I said, Ribisi (as Beering) chatters and rants from behind shades and a beard, and is fascinating to behold.

“Middle Men” could have been a great movie, along the lines of “Boogie Nights,” but is not as slick or as biting as that film. It’s still perfectly entertaining, and would make a good afternoon.

N.B. Did you notice that, in the first overhead shot of Los Angeles they play “Hypnitize” by Biggie? Biggie was an East Coast Rapper. He would have been a little embarrassed.

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Published in: on August 6, 2010 at 1:03 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. You thought Boogie Nights was a good film? It was a piece of garbage!


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