Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language, drug use and violence, 105 minutes
Dark uneven comedy "Middle Men" falls flat
If you've ever felt a little guilty about looking at something on the internet that you shouldn't have, "Middle Men," the new dark comedy about how internet porn got its start back in the 1990s will certainly remind of you that. Based on a true story of one of the film's producers, Christopher Mallick, it starts out as an edgy, fun comedy but too many subplots and characters hamper the film in the later going.
In the mid-1990s, back when music was still sold in stores, VCRs were in every home and the internet was just a glimmer in the world's eye, Houston businessman Jack Harris (Luke Wilson) had a beautiful family and a successful career fixing problem companies. In California he meets two brilliant but troubled entrepeneurs, Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht) who all but invented internet porn. Jack helps to channel the men's energies into a legitimate business, an internet billing company that makes all three men very wealthy. But a seedy lawyer (James Caan), not to mention the Russian mob and the FBI become entangled in a very glamorous, addictive and very dangerous lifestyle that may destroy all involved.
"Middle Men" is an uneven, predictable dramedy that has some fun, unnerving moments, proving that much like sex itself, getting in the adult film business is easy but pulling out is difficult. It's jumpy opening moments reminds of an energetic Scorsese/"Goodfellas"-esque flavor but it becomes filled with too many characters and a busy, calculated last act. Based on the experiences of Mallick, the Hollywood interpretation of how internet porn got started is a huge oversimplication, but often a fascinating one.
"Middle Men" has a good story and a talented cast going for it, giving Wilson his best role in years, and Caan is always a terrific slimeball, though some of the others are a mixed bag. Ribisi and Macht are initially engaging but become vastly annoying as two men who were both brilliantly smart and idiotic at the same time. They scream, shout, throw things and fight but after awhile you really, really, really want them to stop.
The enjoyable film is filled with nudity, sex, shady deals, blood and violence, but the muddled story gets lost in the stylistic busyness of it all. In the end, some of the fictional aspects of "Middle Men" are ridiculous in the same way Oliver Stone's "JFK" was and its impact of the story is somewhat minimized by the fact we may never know how it truly all came down. "Middle Men" is entertaining but slight, unsatisfying in a guilty-pleasure, dirty sort of way.