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I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Movie Review: "Middle Men"

Directed By: George Gallo
Starring: Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht, James Caan Jacinda Barrett, Kevin Pollak, Laura Ramsey, Rade Serbedzija, Terry Crews
2 Stars

Internet porn and online billing were invented by two morons and the world's most boring businessman. At least that's the story in "Middle Men," very loosely based on true events.

Luke Wilson stars as a Texas businessman who winds up in Hollywood organizing the business side for two clueless douchebags who stumble into creating online billing and the first big porn startup. The coke-addled, paranoid, worthless duo is played by Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht.

With the Russian mob, government agents and shady lawyers entering the fray, "Middle Men" indulges itself in crime-movie cliches at the expense of telling a rich, engaging story. There are moments when things get interesting, but they are fleeting. Mostly, "Middle Men" is a mess.

The movie relies heavily on Wilson, who narrates much of it in an almost lifeless voiceover that might as well be a car commercial. I like Luke Wilson, I always have. He's great in "Legally Blonde" and similar supporting roles as the boyfriend or best friend. I'm not sure whether its the material, co-written by director George Gallo, or his performance, but he just isn't magnetic enough to carry this movie. And when "Middle Men" requires him to shoot someone in the foot or threaten to throw James Caan off of a roof? I just wasn't buying it, not even for a second. I'm sorry, Luke.

Wilson's character is a family man who never set out to become a pornographer, but ends up an adulterer, white collar criminal, semi-celebrity, filthy rich and an accessory to murder, to boot. There are no clear motivations for any of his behavior. At one point, in the voiceover, he even says he has no idea why he's made any of the decisions we see him make. That's just lazy moviemaking.

James Caan is of course serviceable as a shady lawyer, just as Kevin Pollak works as a government agent. These are parts these two could play in their sleep. Jacinda Barrett, as Wilson's wife, is the only woman in the film who isn't a stripper or a porn star. She's more of a plot device than a character and it's the same situation for Laura Ramsey as the porn star Wilson shacks up with.

Some kind of points should be awarded to the always likable Terry Crews, or at least his agent, just for his attendance record. He turns up as Luke Wilson's best friend / sort of bodyguard in "Middle Men" just a week before "The Expendables" hit theaters and he's in "Lottery Ticket," too. Of course, "The Expendables" is a blast, "Lottery Ticket" is awful and "Middle Men" is... In the middle.

Despite murder, strippers, porn stars, cocaine and partying, the rise to fame and fortune isn't very exciting nor is the fall all that decadent or humiliating. Luke Wilson's character comes out more or less unblemished (and rich!) despite the misdeeds he sleepwalks through during the movie. "Middle Men" is a lot like porn itself: mildly stimulating, emotionless, dull and far less exciting than you'd thought.

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