Paramount // 2010 // 112 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 8th, 2011
You couldn't do anything online...until they came along.
With a large cast of quality names and a sexy sounding premise, Middle Men sounded like it could have had potential. My instincts were dead wrong, though, and now it all makes sense. How could a movie with these stars, featuring a plot that has proven successful (guys get rich and act like jerks), fly so far under the radar? It's awful, that's how.
In the mid-nineties, Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi, Cold Mountain) and Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht, The Recruit), two layabout twenty-somethings, harnessed the power of their collective imagination and horniness for an ingenious idea. With the program they devised to take credit cards over the web, they'll scan naked pictures into a server and charge people to look at them. Stupid as that may have sounded, it worked. They made millions in only a few months, but also got involved with Russian gangsters and are in a lot of trouble.
Enter Jack Harris (Luke Wilson, Legally Blonde), professional company fixer. He makes tentative peace with the Russians, gives them a legit-sounding company name, and now the money's really rolling in. He never wanted to peddle pornography, but the lure of the life becomes too much to resist, and he loses everything he once held dear.
I guess I didn't see the memo that said Middle Men was the sexy true story of the discrete billing industry. In case you're unfamiliar, these are the companies with euphemistic names that mask users' seedier online transactions. Sort of like the brown paper wrapped packages your dad would spirit away the second they came in the mail. It's sleazy like the porn industry, but not nearly sexy enough for a feature film. Had it been in more competent hands, maybe something interesting could have been made (I'm still shocked that Facebook made a successful movie), but director George Gallo (Double Take) has made a complete mess of this, top to bottom. Who would have thought the man behind Trapped in Paradise would have a problem creating effective comedy? I kid, because it seems like Gallo has a knack for taking talented actors and making utter garbage of their skills. This is no good for anybody, and here we are with Middle Men; the cast must have been deemed "too big to fail," but the film gives little more than excessive flesh and schadenfreude.
You know you're in for a treat when Middle Men begins with an extended narration featuring Luke Wilson. The text sounds like something out of a sexless Penthouse Forum, so imagine the appeal when Wilson's nasally, timid tones begin with, in effect, "I never thought it would happen to me..." It would be one thing if they were strictly making fun of the industry and the people who got rich off horny men's credit cards, but the tone is often serious, often verging on admiration for their accomplishments. The jokes are few and far between, with the intervening time filled with the most predictable melodrama imaginable. If Jack Harris leaves his southern belle beauty queen for the hot young porn star, do you think that means Jack will get another chance with his wife? Odds makers say, "Yes!"
Neither the character nor the performance gives you anything to care about, a big problem that includes every other character and performer in the film. In the right roles, I like some of these actors a lot, even Giovanni Ribisi if given the right role, but everybody's unwatchable. Almost across the board, this is the worst film in these actors' careers. Well, except James Caan (Rollerball), where this may only rank in the bottom five. Insipid, pointless, and boring: are there three more damning attributes to a comedy?
It's a nice Blu-ray from Paramount, I can give Middle Men that, at least. It's not terribly well filmed, but the film is colorful and they pop off the screen here. The avalanche of flesh tones look very good and the level of detail is top notch. The audio mix is excellent, as well, with great clarity and excellent separation in the channels. The rear speakers and low end get a pretty good workout in both the music and the ambient sound, so get ready for some very shrill extras making racket behind your head. Mercifully, they don't include many extras, limiting it to a few deleted scenes, outtakes, and a montage of people in the film getting slapped, all of which is pointless.
I know that, with your heads all full of The Social Network, it might be easy to think another movie about an online company might be worth a shot. Think again. If there's anything worse than an unfunny comedy, it's an unfunny comedy populated by actors with big paychecks. Middle Men is major failure.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes