Monday, August 7, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

More like Bad Men.

If last year’s brutally underseen Confess, Fletch taught us anything, it’s that Jon Hamm — best known as Mad Men’s brooding and laconic philanderer-in-chief, Don Draper — is Actually Hilarious and should be allowed to be so with more frequency than a 30 Rock guest run or the occasional manchild comedy like Tag. Though we may understand why studios overlook Hamm for goofball roles — no one that good-looking should be allowed to be funny — those sporadic pockets of joy tend to work because they capitalize on these aforementioned aesthetic gifts. Hamm plays a great macho doofus, an overconfident underachiever eager to be the butt of as many jokes as the audience can reasonably demand. There’s a delicate sleaziness to Hamm’s comedy, an oozing charm that, with the right creative team, can be batted around like a pinball with precision, intensity, and endless slapstick glee. A black comedy like Maggie Moore(s), premiering this past June at Tribeca, is the perfect opportunity to build on that foundation.
Helmed by Hamm’s Mad Men cohort John Slattery (in his sophomore feature effort after 2014’s God’s Pocket), Maggie Moore(s) begins with Sheriff Sanders (Hamm) investigating the murders of two otherwise unrelated women who both happened to be named — you guessed it — Maggie Moore. Aiding Sanders is Deputy Reddy (Ted Lasso’s Nick Muhammad) and nosey neighbor Rita (Tina Fey). As they scour their arid New Mexican community for clues, the recent divorcée and lonely cop also begin an unlikely romance. Meanwhile, a schlubby sandwich shop manager (Micah Stock as the distractingly-named Jay Moore) feels his world collapsing around him: He’s just had his wife murdered (Louisa Krause as one of the Maggies), and now he needs to tap his failing business’ coffers so he can pay the hitman (Happy Anderson) to kill another woman (Mary Holland as the other Maggie) while implicating a third man (Tate Ellington) to throw local police off his scent. Cats chase the mice, et cetera, et cetera.

The stage is set for an irreverent black comedy that pits unassuming antiheroes against unlikable scumbags and gives a pair of quinquagenarians a chance to find love. Any director worth their salt — especially one who co-starred with and directed his lead actor in some of the finest American television of all time — would know how to make fair hay out of screenwriter Paul Bernbaum’s clever (if needlessly dense) Southwestern noir. Unfortunately, Slattery directs Maggie Moore(s) with all the wit and energy of a Sears catalog, either misunderstanding or flat-out neglecting the rhythms and pacing that separate cinematic comedy from still photography. It’s a tepid and frustrating watch, a film that squanders nearly every opportunity it’s given to invest an audience in its plot or characters. It’s a fascinating case study in tone, actually, an almost uncanny mishandling of quality ingredients by a greenhorn chef. Slattery has carefully copied a winning recipe, but he has no idea how to blend the flavors into a cohesive whole.
Though frequent collaborators Hamm and Fey are usually good together — and one imagines they were happy to grant their talents to buddy Slattery’s project — both are absolutely lost in Maggie Moore(s), playing bland and ineffectual characters whose B-plot romance does more to distract the audience than it does to develop their dynamic. It actually makes us like them less, as Sanders’ petty jealousy over Rita’s fuck-buddy relationship with her ex-husband needlessly complicates the narrative just as it should be ramping up to a dramatic conclusion. Stock’s Jay Moore is a deeply unpleasant character — exactly the kind of villain protagonist that would be common for the genre — but he lacks the depth, range, and audience sympathy of, say, Fargo’s Jerry Lundegaard. While that character had a provincial charm and sensitivity that made his incompetence as a criminal more humanizing, Moore is an irredeemable douchebag dipshit who learns absolutely nothing from his behavior and makes no effort to change.
Worst of all, though, is just how frightfully boring Maggie Moore(s) is to watch. Again, one imagines Slattery dutifully studying the editing rhythms of Steven Soderbergh and the Coen Brothers, clocking the spaces between lines of pulpy dialogue and making careful tallies of which size lenses provoke the desired emotions. But it’s the singer, not the song, and Slattery lacks the insight and dexterity to use those tools to make exciting tonal shifts or create memorable characters. There’s a finesse to this, an It Factor, and Slattery just doesn’t have it. Great genre cousins like The Nice Guys or The Ice Harvest (or even my beloved A Simple Favor) have a heartbeat, a pace and energy of spirit in which an audience can get swept up. Maggie Moore(s), on the other hand, barely has a pulse, and if we’re forced to rely on incidental characters like Anderson’s taciturn bruiser and Oona Roche’s quirky shopgirl to make this somnambulant tale more interesting, then we’re in far deeper trouble than any of the misbegotten souls on screen.

No comments:

Post a Comment