By Don Simpson | August 5, 2010
Director: George Gallo
Writer: George Gallo, Andy Weiss
Starring: Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht, James Caan
Inspired by the true story of Jack Harris (Luke Wilson), Middle Men confoundedly begins at the end of the tale and then is told in a perplexing web of flashbacks, transporting us to various time periods and told from several characters’ perspectives, all narrated by Jack (despite the fact that Jack is not present in some of the scenes). While attempting to piece together a synopsis of the plot in a linear format, it became very obvious to me why this non-linear narrative trick was utilized…there is very little plot to work with.
Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht) invent e-commerce and thus discover a way to charge money for Internet porn. Riddled but cocaine habits and possessing absolutely no business sense, Wayne and Buck instantly begin making bad business decisions, squandering their income and getting mixed up with the Russian mob. This is where Jack comes in. Jack is a Texas businessman who has an unfathomable knack for fixing bad situations; a smooth-talking negotiator, manipulator and diplomat, Jack seems to be able to talk himself and his clients out of anything. (Repeatedly contending that he is motivated by neither money nor power, we learn rather quickly that our narrator is smooth-talking the audience as if we are the FBI or Russian mob.)
A good old boy and family man (or so he claims), Jack tries his darndest to keep his distance from Wayne and Buck’s porn activities by only managing their billing operations. He rationalizes his role in the burgeoning Internet porn industry by explaining that he is no more involved in porn than respectable hotels (which offer their guests adult entertainment via televisions). Jack is merely a middle man.
Despite his full immersion into the manic and seedy underworld of sex, drugs and violence, Jack remains calm, cool and collected — make that too calm, cool and collected; and other than a brief affair with a 23-year old porn star (Laura Ramsey), Jack remains far too innocent and flawless. (Even Jack’s affair with the porn star turns out to be for the benefit of U.S. National Security.) On the other hand, Jack is surrounded by chaotic caricatures whose questionable moral fibers are grossly exaggerated (often for comic relief). Even the camerawork is stylized to portray Jack as the good guy. Wayne and Buck’s scenes are shot with crazed and frenetic zeal, while Jack’s scenes are very conventionally staged and paced.
Co-written and directed by George Gallo, Middle Men’s over-reliance on flashbacks (and pointless narration) ably castrates the narrative (even the ample nudity — female breasts and butts — fails to be stimulating), thus creating a muddled and meaningless mess. The story of the advent of Internet porn, and this fairly capable cast, warrants a much better film than this.