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The Boring Parts of Porn

By Brian Prisco | Film Reviews | August 12, 2010 | Comments ()


MiddleMenPoster.jpg

Do you read Maxim magazine? Because I used to. Once in a while, I'll flip through, and remind myself what it is about the rag that I don't find appealing anymore. The articles are occasionally pretty good, and there are moments where you just kind of laugh and enjoy. But everything else just reminds you it's a PG-13 Playboy. It's as if a teenager told his clever mother he only reads the skin mag for the articles, so she goes through with a whiteout brush and draws modest one-piece bathing suits on the spreads and then lets him read it. It's a disappointment. Such is the case with Middle Men, which chronicles the development of 24/7 Billing, which acted as the fingercuffs between the online porn distributors and the horny husbands who wanted to whack it to Lusty Busty Asians in the comfort of their own dens. With the doors locked. And the lights off. What ruins it is what ruins most films of this ilk: Based on A True Story. Unsatisfied with ruining the genre of action-comedy, writer-director George Gallo gives us this limp-dicked, half-assed retelling of the innovation of online porn billing. The sad part is that, like the porn movies it portrays, there are many moments that are simply glorious, particularly when fresh meat in the way of cameos are brought in to play. But for the most part, the film simply goes flatly through the motions, and you wish it would get it over with. And to please get its elbows off your hair.

From a historical perspective, it's kind of brilliant. Two completely psychotic assclowns Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht, The Spirit) and Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi, The Other Sister) become inspired in a drug-fueled haze. Wayne wants to charge people to look at naked pictures of women online, because he's already knuckle-shuffled through his stash and wants to find fresh sources. So Buck, a computer genius, writes the code that would eventually become the standard for online billing, still used today by everyone. Now people can use their credit cards from anywhere in the world to buy a subscription to their assortment of naked photos. And like that, money starts pouring in hand over hairy-palmed fist. They soon realize they'll need more photos, and because they're psychotic assclowns, they end up in bed with Nikita Sokoloff (Rade Serbedzija) and the Russian mafia. This doesn't deter them from running up a tab of $100 million dollars and locking themselves in a Vegas hotel for a month snorting coke and blowing through hookers like Jimmy Durante with a box of Kleenex. And now they're up to their empty fucking assclown heads in shit.

Enter Jack Harris (Luke Wilson), a successful Houston entrepreneur with a loving wife Diana (Jacinda Barrett) and family. He gets called upon by a shady lawyer Jerry Hagerty (James Caan) to see if he can go and broker a deal with the two idiots, their Russian mobsters, and possibly get Jerry and himself cuts of the profits. Jack comes in, brushes aside the problems, and bing bang boom, they develop the means to act as an intermediary. So now porn stars will be able to promote their sites without worry of getting shafted (aside from voluntarily, natch) and clients will have a billing statement that reads the innocuous 24/7 Billing and not "Schoolgirls With Shitstained Underpants" or "Granny Gang-Bang" or any of the other sites that keep Jergens in business.

The problem with the rest of the film is it goes cattywampus, or pussy paradoxical if you'd prefer. There's a very integral spine involving Jack and his family life, which gets way more play than necessary. It becomes more about the Russian mob and the wild wangbang dealings, which makes the film feel like ... well, like a really fucking bad action-comedy, which is Gallo's forte. Yes, he was the man who wrote Bad Boys. But he also wrote Bad Boys II. And then eventually Homeland Security. And Code Name: The Cleaner. He's ruined more black actors than arteriosclerosis.

But he sure gets some damn fine mileage out of cameos. Martin Kove (the dojo master from The Karate Kid), Robert Forester, Kevin Pollack, and my favorite cameo of the year by far and away, Kelsey Grammar as a shit-eating Texas prosecuting attorney. Also, Giovanni Ribisi puts in a performance that almost makes the movie worth the price of admission. He's like this catastrophic combination of Hunter S. Thompson and John Belushi. With aviator sunglasses, a constant drooping cigarette, and a scraggly beard, he's running through the film frothing at the mouth and ripping into everyone with violent paranoiac outbursts. Even Luke Wilson grows on you after a while, because he works as a kind of mild-mannered sleaze merchant. You can believe he does backdoor deals with smut peddlers and still has time for the church barbecue. When you need affably boring, he's a safe port. Plus, there's the added and amazingly entertaining game of watching his chingut swell and deflate during the film. Though the film does take place over several years, you can actually track which scenes were shot when because Luke Wilson alternates from Rock Hudson to Orson Welles like a pufferfish. It's simply breathtaking.

It's not an offensively bad film, at least compared to the overall oeuvre of George Gallo, but it just kind of takes too long to get to the money shots. And with the ridiculous nature of the plot and the history, it should be a pretty fucking saucy piece. Yeah, there's plenty of fake plastic titties and weird orgy scenes, but mostly it's about marketing and accounting, so you miss the fireworks. It's just a lot of groaning and panting with not enough payoff. But the performances are good enough you won't walk away totally unsatisfied. Dick joke. The end.




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