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Middle Men DVD Review

Middle Men (2010) movie poster Middle Men

Theatrical Release: August 6, 2010 / Running Time: 112 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: George Gallo / Writers: George Gallo, Andy Weiss

Cast: Luke Wilson (Jack Harris), Giovanni Ribisi (Wayne Beering), Gabriel Macht (Buck Dolby), James Caan (Jerry Haggerty), Jacinda Barrett (Diana Harris), Kevin Pollak (Curt Allmans), Laura Ramsey (Audrey Dawns), Rade Sherbedgia (Nikita Sokoloff), Terry Crews (James), Kelsey Grammer (Frank Griffin), Graham McTavish (Ivan Sokoloff), Robert Forster (Louie LA LA), John Ashton (Morgan), Jason Antoon (Denny Z), Martin Kove (US Senator Jeffery Bowles), Diane Sorrentino (Raven Swallows), Jesse Jane (Herself)

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According to a 2010 report, pornography accounts for 37 percent of the Internet. Along with communication and research, the World Wide Web has revolutionized porn, taking it out of seedy bookstores and embarrassing video shop sections and into every home, just a few clicks and keystrokes away, whether wanted or not. This point is made in the prologue to Middle Men, a film about a few individuals who got rich out of providing porn to the Internet in its infancy.

In its opening (and on its poster and cover art), the film states that it is inspired by a true story. Early into the end credits, it claims it is a fictionalization. What transcends in between them is so specific that it's easy to put more stock into the first claim and recognize that the end credits text is there to protect the producers (including e-commerce pioneer Christopher Mallick) from defamation lawsuits.

"Middle Men" stars Luke Wilson as Jack Harris, a Texas family man who gets involved in the lucrative world of Internet pornography. Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht) and Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) lay the unlikely foundation for a fruitful partnership with Jack.

Inspiration occurs when Wayne Beering (a miscalculating Giovanni Ribisi) craves some new titillation and is dissatisfied by what the Net has to offer him. The bearded, sunglass-wearing madman and his best friend, disgraced former NASA rocket scientist Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht), come up with a plan to scan pictures from dirty magazines and charge people to view them. Buck writes the code to process credit card transactions and Wayne supplies the smut. Just like Mark Zuckerberg's Facemash project and Julie Powell's blog, the hits start coming in, with new subscriptions triggering one of several celebratory sound effects.

Fortunately for us, these drug-addled Los Angeles lowlifes are not our protagonists. That honor belongs to Jack Harris (Luke Wilson), an utterly decent Houston man who is both old-fashioned and spontaneous enough to propose marriage at an offhand barbecue remark.
Jack has a wife (Jacinda Barrett), kids, stable employment, and morals, so he is reluctant to get involved in porn. Nonetheless, at the request of a sketchy indictable lawyer acquaintance (James Caan), Jack meets with Buck and Wayne and enters into a partnership with them.

The new plan is not to make pornography, but to facilitate it, with Jack's business experience shaping a secure, discreet billing service to stand as intermediate between adult websites and their customers. Even getting just a cut of all transactions is enough to make Jack, Buck, and Wayne rich beyond their wildest dreams. They become respected as an integral part of the porn industry, getting invited to and noticed at raucous events. Their dealings also make them a target for those in organized crime, such as the aforementioned lawyer and some Russian mobsters Wayne and Buck have gotten mixed up with. There's also interest from the FBI, though their first contact is amicable, ludicrous, and patriotic.

As you anticipate, long-term exposure to the glitzy but sleazy marketplace begins to take its toll on Jack. His flights back to Texas to see the wife and kids grow sparse and solemn, paving the way for him to move out to the West Coast and in with a 23-year-old porn star (Laura Ramsey).

Shady L.A. lawyer Jerry Haggerty (James Caan) pitches Jack the business venture and gets paid hundreds of thousands to stay out of it. Succumbing to the glitz of the industry, Jack leaves his wife, moves out west, and shacks up with this 23-year-old porn star Audrey Dawns (Laura Ramsey).

From watching Middle Men, you might expect it was made by someone young and greatly impacted by the crime dramas of Martin Scorsese. In fact, it is directed and co-written by George Gallo, who has been making movies for twenty-five years
and most notably wrote the terrific Midnight Run and the story that would become Will Smith's Bad Boys (for which he had Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey in mind). Middle Men unmistakably takes after Goodfellas and its cousin Casino in structure and style. Wilson narrates the picture with the same cadence of Ray Liotta and Gallo loads the film with period tunes (which, given the primarily late-'90s setting, includes Chumbawamba, OMC, and The Notorious B.I.G.) and some always-fashionable Rolling Stones. The similarities go much further, from manic editing to jumps and freeze frames. One isn't bothered that Gallo is aping Scorsese's style and he does so more tastefully than Ted Demme's Blow did.

The rise and fall docudrama is a class that is typically loaded with appeal and that is mostly true of Middle Men, no matter how little interest you may think you have in its subject matter. The film is a lot more compelling when it has Wilson, its earnest, identifiable family man lead in view than his California colleagues and their criminal associates. Some of the movie feels exaggerated or fabricated, particularly an anti-terrorism subplot and the tidy resolution. It's also unclear how the billing venture paves the way to the party scene for righteous Jack (as opposed to Buck and Wayne, who are naturally drawn to it). False notes like that do cause the movie to flirt with B-movie status. At no point is it ever as rich and flavorful as Scorsese's two model sagas, but when measured not to those exemplary tales but modern cinema at large, Middle Men has a reasonable amount of merit.

If nothing else, the movie reminds us that Luke Wilson can act, something that's largely been forgotten in the ten years since he last worked with Wes Anderson. This is a credit that Wilson needed, as he was beginning to become more known as a cell phone spokesman. Alas, Wilson's supporting turn in Chris Rock's Death at a Funeral remake was seen in theaters over fifty times more than Middle Men was. One of just a handful of titles carrying the Paramount Vantage banner these days, Middle Men was given an August release in just 252 cinemas domestically (to date, hardly anywhere else) and didn't gross enough to warrant expansion or come anywhere near recouping the reported $22 million budget (which some disgruntled customers have linked to Mallick's much-documented "ePassporte scam"). The movie's theatrical record was not far from that of Idiocracy, one of Wilson's last leading roles of value (and which, coincidentally, also featured a memorable supporting turn by Terry Crews).

Paramount will see if Middle Men is destined for the same cult afterlife as that futuristic Mike Judge comedy when they release the film to DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday.

Middle Men DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Captioned and Subtitled
Release Date: February 8 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($34.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Middle Men loses no points for its fine DVD presentation. The flashy, stylized visuals arrive with nary a shortcoming. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is also effective, using the high volume of sampled music tastefully and not overpowering the crisp dialogue. This may not be a DVD you reach for to demonstrate your new home theater, but it is one that achieves everything it sets out to visually and aurally.

Shooter McGavin? More like Smoker McGavin, as Christopher McDonald plays a dying dad in this deleted scene. James Caan's pronunciation causes Luke Wilson to crack up in the Outtakes reel. Playing Russian mob boss Nikita Sokoloff, Rade Sherbedgia knows the value of a good face slap, as a Slap Montage illustrates.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

By far the biggest bonus feature and, strangely, the only one not listed on the case is an audio commentary by director/co-writer George Gallo, editor Malcolm Campbell, and cinematographer Lukas Ettlin.
Gallo leads what is a highly screen-specific discussion, focusing largely on techniques and inspirations, citing a number of his favorite movies (but avoiding the obvious Scorsese ones). It is a pretty average track that steers clear of the facts for ordinary filmmaking talk.

On the video front, there are three short features, all disappointingly not enhanced for 16:9 displays.

Of three deleted scenes (5:48), two are notable for casting Christopher McDonald as Jack's cancer-addled father in an unused early sequence and for ruining a late-film revelation involving the lawyer played by James Caan.

A short Outtakes reel (1:40) consists largely of Caan and Luke Wilson, reunited from Bottle Rocket, goofing up their takes and busting each other's chops.

The "Slap Montage" (0:57) is what it sounds like, setting a tightly-edited reel of face and body slaps (most executed by Rade Sherbedgia's Russian mobster) to music.

Finally, "Previews" plays trailers for The Traveler and The Romantics, followed by the disc-opening ones for Paranormal Activity 2, Jackass 3, and Case 39.

The static main menu reuses the poster design while score plays. The rest silently display character stills.

Before he becomes a wealthy middle man, Jack Harris (Luke Wilson) is a Houston family man, with a wife (Jacinda Barrett) and infant son.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Middle Men will draw inevitable comparisons to highly respected films it doesn't come too close to living up to. But it's an interesting take on a modern topic not given much thought. The strong performances, especially Luke Wilson's, serve the movie well and though it may be derivative, George Gallo's dexterous directing style is effective. While the subject matter will be off-putting to many, this drama has the potential to surprise in ways it didn't get to theatrically. Paramount's DVD is rather unremarkable but the sharp feature presentation draws no complaints.

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Middle Men Songs List (in order of use): George Thorogood & The Destroyers - "Who Do You Love", Hall & Oates - "You Make My Dreams", Kool & The Gang featuring Jamiroquai - "Hollywood Swinging", Tito Puente - "Oye Como Va", OMC - "How Bizarre", Louis Prima - "Buona Sera", Moby - "Honey" (featuring Bessie Jones - "Sometimes"), Alan Monsarrat - "Cocaine", Stone Temple Pilots - "Down", J. Geils Band - "Freeze Frame", Wes Cunningham - "La Grange", The Notorious B.I.G. - "Hypnotize", The Subdudes - "All the Time in the World", Chumbawamba - "Tubthumping", Dirtyswift - "Grass Hoppa", Jim Dooley - "True Gritts", The Rolling Stones - "Sympathy for the Devil", Tears for Fears - "Everybody Wants to Rule the World", Outkast featuring Sleepy Brown - "The Way You Move", tedhed - "In the Moment", Patsy Cline - "Sweet Dreams", Werner Tautz - "Set 'Em Up Joe", 2Pac - "California Love Remix", Moby - "Bodyrock", The Rolling Stones - "You Can't Always Get What You Want"

Middle Men: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack:
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Middle Men: Music from the Original Score by Brian Tyler:
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Reviewed February 3, 2011.



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and 2011 Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.