Those of you still missing "Northern Exposure" may want to check out Welcome to Mooseport, which is set in the same kind of quirky small town where all the quirky people accept all the other quirky people's quirkiness. There's even a moose roaming the streets -- oh, and an elderly streaker, whom nobody looks at twice. Mooseport, Maine, wouldn't quite make it onto the map if it wasn't the town where Monroe "Eagle" Cole (Gene Hackman), who just completed two terms as president of the United States, has decided to retire. Suddenly, we're in a Preston Sturges movie.
Actually, we're in a Donald Petrie movie. Having botched Miss Congeniality and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Petrie flings himself at Welcome to Mooseport, ratcheting up the pace and underlining (or should I say undermining?) everything with musical cues. But direction isn't the main problem here, scripting is. The premise is so weak it can't lift the movie off the ground. For reasons better left unexplained, Cole winds up running for mayor against Ray Romano's Handy Harrison, who owns the local hardware store. Handy is that small-town staple, an honest man. Cole is a master manipulator. Wackiness will surely ensue.
Except it doesn't. Sitting through the movie is like watching paint fail to dry. Nothing gels. Romano acts like he's still on "Everybody Loves Raymond," tossing off jokes without moving a single muscle in his face. (And what's up with those teeth? They're blinding.) I keep hearing he's the next Jimmy Stewart, or at least the next Tom Hanks, but everybody forgets how light on his feet Stewart was. Romano has this halting comic rhythm reminiscent of Ellen DeGeneres, and he knows how to work it. But his voice is a complete drone. Is that what everybody loves?