Tulsa TV Memories      

Middle Men

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

As surely as prostitution is the world's oldest profession, it was to be that the biggest profits being made today on the internet come from pornography. Sexual pleasure, in whatever form, is as sure a slam-dunk for business as on what horizon the sun will not only rise but set.

And so it is on that hook George Gallo made a film back in 2009 about how porn has become a way of life in the privacy of one's own domicile---thanks to the World Wide Web. This is a movie about how certain business models are constructed, and the visionary men who constructed them.

(SFX: inspiring bg music)

Boldly following the trail blazed by "Boogie Nights," the film that made Mark Wahlberg the really big star he is today, Mr. Gallo, with an assist in script chores from Andy Weiss, reveals the authentic saga of a Houston, Texas businessman named Jack Harris, played by Luke Wilson ("Idiocracy," 2006).

Why do so many famous businessmen come from Texas?

Jack is a successful fixer of troubled businesses. He loves his lovely wife, Diana (Jacinda Barrett) and their children. He is, I guess you could say, a hardcore family man.

Jack Harris' story is one of a guy who steps onto a slippery slope. He first meets two slackards named Wayne (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck (Gabriel Macht). Even though these guys look to be only half-baked, it's through their collaborative genius the concept of making money in adult entertainment on the internet is discovered. Although their intentions are much more nefarious than Laurel and Hardy's ever were, Wayne and Buck's inability to do anything right is reminiscent of the great comic duo known so well to movie fans of the late 20s and 30s.

What Wayne and Buck understand most is that other men like to look at naked women, as they do. But they're not adept at devising a business model that's efficient enough for their low-tech web site.

Jack is a family man, yes, but sees how he can make it work for Wayne and Buck, and earn lots of money in the assist. When Jack makes the decision to lend a hand to these doofuses is the point at which the slope he's stepped on begins to disintegrate.

Before it's all over, Jack is entangled with Russian mobsters in Los Angeles, as well as a rather elderly and smarmy American attorney named Jerry Haggerty (James Caan, quite good, here).

Luke Wilson and Laura Ramsey

It goes even deeper into the morass as Jack hooks up with a 23-year-old porn star called Audrey Dawns (Laura Ramsey). After that, other connections Jack makes relate to the FBI and Middle Eastern terrorists who, besides hating America, enjoy looking at unclothed woman on the internet, too, but don't want anyone knowing they do. The film implies that zealously religious people must maintain their cover.

This narrative sounds pretty cut and dried. And it is. However, Gallo drags it out in a quasi-documentary style for some stretches of the film and, at times, lays a big production look onto "Middle Men" with dark, sensitive scenes, underscored by languid, noirish music, to portray moments of tears and torment.

That was the rub, for me. "Middle Men" tries to be too much. It's kind of funny, it's kind of gross, it displays some female anatomy, but not too much, there is the semblance of an orgy in it, some one is kidnapped and another person is accidentally killed which most everyone believes is an execution. And, all the while: Jack Harris is a family man.

Three things I did like about "Men," though, were Caan ("Rollerball," 1975) as the wily mob lawyer and Robert Forster ("Reflections in a Golden Eye," 1967), that noir fave of everyone's as (Oh, yes!) Louie La La. Too bad there wasn't enough of Mr. Forster to go around in this movie. And the third thing: wow, Kelsey Grammer as Frank. He's a corrupt, yet "upright" Texas politician Jack threatens to blackmail with Frank's credit card paper trail of online porn purchases.

James Caan, Jason Antoon and Giovanni Ribisi

James Caan explains things to Jason Antoon and Giovanni Ribisi.

That very threat is what leads these cutting-edge men of commerce to another revelation in porn business-modeling.

As there is a paucity of characters in this movie to care for, Luke Wilson's Jack is written so we'll like him. Maybe, in real life, Mr. Harris is a nice guy and a good family man. But the Jack Harris I saw on the screen is way too smart and biz savvy to be so naïve about the way the world is, not to mention, his own values. I didn't buy the denial and conflict in which he supposedly stews. Wilson could've played that element for laughs, but the script plays too many ways to allow it.

On the other hand, it was a learning experience for me seeing "Middle Men" just to appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit some guys have. The money these adult entertainment people and big corporations made---and continue to make---is impressive. And the service such stalwarts of American commerce provide people around the world is truly remarkable, I guess you might say.

What really rang my chime, however, was coming to the stark realization that, I suppose---I, myself---could view some of their, uh, "product" right now---here with my very own PC on which I've been typing and now quickly conclude this film review.

Technology rules.

"Middle Men" official site.

Opens wide August 6.

See Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2010, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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