Kinda true story of ‘Middle Men’ bit short on ideas

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, August 5, 2010 8:19pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

There’s an ironic notion at the middle of “Middle Men,” which is that a great part of the success of the Internet as we know it comes from a couple of low-lifes dreaming up a method for allowing discreet online credit-card charges to porno sites.

The truth probably isn’t that simple. But the film gets some mileage out of this wacky notion, while it apes “GoodFellas” for a portrait of how one individual gets overwhelmed by the shady apparatus he helps create.

Luke Wilson, who frequently gets tapped for these American Everyman roles, plays an average Joe headed for the white-picket-fence life: He’s a problem-solver for businesses that need a little patchwork.

Getting hooked up with a couple of L.A. sleazebags who’ve developed the aforementioned online-credit gizmo is not the way to the traditional American Dream, however. “Middle Men” tracks the escalating craziness of this guy’s life as he acquires great wealth and bad habits, insisting all the while that he’s not a pornographer — merely a service provider.

Writer-director George Gallo gets some mileage out of this situation, which is sorta kinda based on a true story.

Mobsters and porn stars parade through the plot, which has some nicely-worked-out backstabbing along the way (and even an amusing subplot about how Wilson’s character aids the U.S. government’s “war on terror”).

But the seedy milieu feels standard and Gallo’s approach a little too reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s gangland pictures. When your movie is set during the Aughts and you score major scenes to the Rolling Stones classics “Sympathy for the Devil” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” it means you’re out of ideas.

Wilson makes for a blah hero. As though to compensate, Giovanni Ribisi (even more obnoxious than usual) and Gabriel Macht (“The Spirit”) overact madly as his two partners in porn.

It’s a relief to have old pro James Caan around as a mob lawyer; at least he knows how to underplay for sinister effect. Otherwise, this movie is all noise and skin, its morality tale a foregone conclusion from the opening moments onward.

“Middle Men”

A based-on-truth movie about an average American Joe (Luke Wilson) who got drawn into the hugely lucrative world of Internet porn, thanks to a couple of seedy geniuses who figured out a secure online-credit system for payment. The movie’s all noise and skin, and its morality tale a foregone conclusion, as it imitates the gangland style of “GoodFellas.”

Rated: R for nudity, violence, language

Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett, Marysville, Meridian, Metro, Oak Tree, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

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