Middle Men - **1/2
Directed by: George Gallo
Starring: Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, James Caan
Review: ‘Middle Men’ falls into the same trap that many movies of this type fall into. The rags to riches story is a common one in film and often times presents a very interesting dynamic. Someone who grows up, becomes an adult, settles in to their life, and then has it all turned upside down as they skyrocket to fame always presents many interesting issues to tackle on film. It shows a lot about somebody’s character whether they remain the same person with their large amount of wealth and fame, whether they still treat people with respect, whether they are smart with their money, whether they stay faithful to their significant others when presented with the temptation that all this brings, and whether or not they can handle the pressure and stresses that all that money bring.
This is the topic at the core of ‘Middle Men.’ Luke Wilson plays the character of Jack Harris, a business man who’s business is never truly defined but he has a knack for ‘fixing things.’ One day a lawyer that he knows throws a problem his way to fix. The problem centers around two ‘idiots’ Buck and Wayne. Buck and Wayne have developed code for ecommerce, a way to take peoples credit cards from anywhere in the world, charge it, and remit the payments to a different website. This happened in the late 1990’s early 2000’s and completely revolutionized the internet and ecommerce. After some cleaning up of Buck, Wayne, and getting their idea ready to go, they eventually started a billing company. What really makes the company takes off and makes things really interesting for this crew are how the porn industry uses this to their fullest advantage.
The company becomes extremely successful and these men are thrown massive amounts of wealth before they even knew what happened, and they were allowed complete access to the entire porn industry. Buck and Wayne become complete characters, two men of limited real world intelligence (although both are extremely book smart), they were taken advantage of by industry insiders and let the money and fame completely go to their heads. This eventually leads to trouble as Buck and Wayne get involved with the wrong people and it leads to some major trouble for them and their company.
I will refrain from divulging any more of the plot. The movie provides a real interesting avenue to go down and really explore these characters. However, the movie doesn’t really go down any of these avenues. These characters all have separate motivations, some they share with one another, some they keep to themselves. It was a failure of the film to let this go to waste. Instead of focusing on this aspect of the story they choose to look at the superficial.
It seem as though in films such as these the filmmakers think that since people would love the advantages that come with wealth and fame that that’s all they care about seeing. That’s what the movie gives you, this crew spends money recklessly, parties hard, and throws any sort of fidelity and loyalty to the winds as they enjoy the fruits of their labor. With this the movie misses the most compelling part of this story.
What makes this a story that needs to be told is how this crew, Jack in particular, deal with the fame and try to keep themselves together amongst the walls of inhibition falling down around them. Buck and Dwayne get involved with seedy characters, porn stars, and lots of drugs. Jack finds himself increasingly away from his family and increasingly presented with the temptation that a world of porn starts gives someone. Jack thinks of himself as a good man and convinces himself he is spending all this time and doing all this for his family, but it’s really his selfish motivations that make him carry on. It’s this constant tug-of-war that causes his life to fall apart at the seams. As a character, this is ripe filmmaking and something that could be delved into with much depth, but it’s just missing from the movie. They show Jack struggling with the acceptance of his life and his decisions, but the movie gets too caught up in the decisions than to deal with how they affect the man himself.
Movies like ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Black Swan’ this year were able to nail that correctly but not quite here. The filmmakers choose not to reveal too much about Jack’s motivations and don’t give Buck or Wayne any humanity to work with that could make us pull for them in the slightest. What makes movies like this great are the filmmakers abilities to give us something to root for and characters whom we actually care about what happens to, that this movie lacks.
All in all, this was an entertaining bit of cinema, but only worth your time from the rental side of things (not that you have a choice now), and only if you’re really curious about the story.