And the town cheered!

Small-town populations almost never catch a break in the dramatic world. For the most part, plays and movies have consistently reduced them to flat but lovable characters who bemuse city folk and cheer at town meetings. “Welcome to Mooseport” (20th Century Fox) is no different, as the audience can hardly expect the citizens of Mooseport to be sensitive and cultured people. Enter the hokey plot: Mooseport is invaded by its very antithesis, Washington, D.C., politicos, leading to general mayhem and chaos.

Well-known to Mooseport is Harold “Handy” Harrison (Ray Romano), the sweet-natured owner of the local hardware store. He has the perfect woman, veterinarian Sally Mannis (Maura Tierney), but she’s getting frustrated with his lack of commitment. Well-known to everyone is former U.S. President Monroe Eagle Cole (Gene Hackman), who has come to settle permanently in his summer home in Mooseport. The PR-hungry Cole accepts an offer to run unopposed as a replacement for the town’s recently deceased mayor, but the situation gets sticky when Handy decides to run at the last minute. When the president makes a move on Sally, the race gets personal, and Mooseport becomes a media circus as the Washington elite face off against the small-town underdog.

Similar plots have been executed many times, and “Mooseport” serves as a caricature of the genre, from the name of the town to the indicative names of the rivals. The minor characters – sycophantic advisors, token sidekicks, paranoid Secret Servicemen – are intentional hyper-stereotypes. So it is surprising that the film contains almost no barbed commentary on its power-grubbing city slickers. Besides the stock no-honest-men-in-politics jokes, “Mooseport” is a film without cynicism – there are no real villains, and only gentle fun is poked throughout. Even more surprising is that the story is as heavy on romantic comedy as it is light on incisive political satire.

The jaded pessimist in me might have been completely turned off by the movie were it not for the comic poise of the two leads and an able supporting cast that includes Marcia Gay Harden and Christine Baranski. After all, what’s so wrong with a silly, happy movie? “Welcome to Mooseport” doesn’t say many things in its unfailing happy sunshine, and it may not be the comedy of the year, but it may just brighten your day.

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