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Middle Men (Blu-ray Review)

4 Feb, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 2/8/11
Box Office $0.8 million
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for strong sexual content, nudity, language, drug use and violence.
Stars Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht, James Caan, Kevin Pollak, Kelsey Grammer, Jacinda Barrett, Laura Ramsey.

Throw Boogie Nights, Goodfellas and The Social Network into a blender and the resulting smoothie might resemble Middle Men.

The film, supposedly inspired by true events, chronicles the rise and fall of a group of would-be Internet moguls who sought to fill a void in the late 1990s by putting porn online. It begins as the brainchild of Wayne and Buck (Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht), two hapless junkies who stumble upon a marketable idea rooted in their own perversion. They soon find themselves in over their heads after making a deal with a Russian mobster to provide girls for the website.

Enter Jack (Luke Wilson), a straight-laced family man with a reputation for problem-solving. He’s recruited by a smarmy lawyer (James Caan) to set the boys up as a legitimate enterprise. Jack sees an opportunity not in continuing to make porn, but in the program they created to collect credit card payments. They license the program out to anyone interested in selling adult entertainment, and the cash starts pouring in. But Jack can never quite escape the nefarious roots of his business, or his own growing taste for the big life.

So what was being set up as a lighthearted romp suddenly steers into the realm of gritty crime drama, with everyone acting as if they’re trying out for the Rat Pack. The only one who seems to be playing it more or less straight is Wilson, whose calm demeanor and charm are what mostly holds the film together.

The story is presented in a kinetic style that consists of rapid editing and multiple flashbacks, with Wilson narrating using his best Ray Liotta voice. But just in case there are any viewers out there too dense to figure out the subtext of what’s going on, the plot introduces an FBI agent played by Kevin Pollack to helpfully explain it all.

The disc isn’t brimming with extras but offers just enough to seem appropriate for such a low-key release. The behind-the-scenes story of the film is told in a commentary by writer-director George Gallo, editor Malcolm Campbell and cinematographer Lukas Ettlin, who mostly remind the viewer of the brisk pace of their filmmaking.

There are also three deleted scenes, a few outtakes and a montage of characters slapping each other (and there is a lot of slapping in this film). All in all, these are amusing but rather inconsequential.

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