When I think about the concept behind Middle Men, I’m reminded of the Mr. Show sketch about turning a coupon into a movie; “People love the coupon, they’ll love the movie.” With Middle Men, taking a subject that most men hold dear (usually in their left hand, for logistical reasons), the porn industry receives a similar treatment. People love internet porn; surely they’ll love a movie about internet porn. And so it goes. Middle Men recounts the story of the first men to monetize online porn and the perilous road they took in going from a project in a dingy apartment to a booming industry with a technology that could become increasingly lucrative in an internet saturated age. It’s equal parts comedy and drama, but more often than not it fails to be either and only manages to tell a somewhat interesting story. A note for future filmmakers: breasts, mafiosos, and money don’t automatically make a film interesting.
Wayne (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck (Gabriel Macht) found a way to put photos and videos of naked women of all tastes online and charge interested parties for access via credit card using an innocuous charge title, so suspicious spouses are none the wiser of their sexual proclivities. The duo never suspects that their service will take off, but it does, like wildfire. Before long they’re inundated with credit card orders and checks for their service and they soon have to update servers to handle the capacity – and begin creating their own material, for which they need the help of men with access to women. They soon get tied to foreign crimelords and whole business gets larger than they can manage, even working full-time. Eventually, Jack Harris (Luke Wilson) is called on to the scene by a man (James Caan) for whom he’d previously shored up other complicated business ventures. When Jack realizes that he’s stumbled onto the future of ecommerce thanks to Wayne and Buck’s online credit card processing, he starts thinking big and things start to get complicated. His life, and those of all involve, begin spinning wildly out of control and he does his best to find balance between the dirty business he’s involved in and the family life he tells himself he wants.
Middle Men banks heavily on the assumption that people will be attracted to it out of morbid curiosity thanks to the promise of revealing the online porn industry’s humble beginnings. True, the sinful hydra of online porn is one of those cans of worms that you can’t help but wonder how it all began – but ultimately the story fizzles out once that portion is told. After the initial half hour, all the naked women, criminal thugs, and stacks of money blur together and just become a jumbled mess of a narrative that really has no objective beyond having some semblance of a moral rationale for putting porn on the screen in a feature film.
Luke Wilson is a decent leading man. He’s likable, but he struggles to carry a film without lots of help from a strong supporting cast, and he doesn’t necessarily have that here. The strongest players in the film, Ribisi and Caan, get written off to the sidelines as we watch this regular guy attempt to reconcile the perceived immorality of the industry he deals with on a daily basis with his quieter suburban family life. Ribisi and Caan, when given the opportunity, get to have some fun going over-the-top. They do what they can to even the film out, but there’s not much to be done. Beyond those three, the film is filled with plenty of familiar faces including Kevin Pollak, Jacinda Barrett, Laura Ramsey, Terry Crews, and Kelsey Grammer.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
There’s nothing of interest here, as all we really get are some deleted scenes, outtakes, and a reel of all the slaps (of which there are many) that occur in the film.
"Middle Men" is on sale February 8, 2011 and is rated R. Comedy, Drama. Directed by George Gallo. Written by George Gallo, Andy Weiss. Starring Gabriel Macht, Giovanni Ribisi, Jacinda Barrett, James Caan, Kelsey Grammer, Terry Crews, Luke Wilson, Kevin Pollak.