Not everybody loves Raymond

Once upon a time, people went to a movie just because a favorite star was in it. That tradition has faded, but expectations still rise when a major name signs on to a project. Sometimes those expectations are rewarded.

And sometimes they're not. Welcome to "Welcome to Mooseport," featuring the gifted Gene Hackman, the able Marcia Gay Harden, and the droopy Ray Romano, who's ready for prime time but definitely not the multiplex.

Hackman plays Monroe Eagle Cole, a former president of the United States who's glad to be retiring from politics - partly because he wants to relax, and even more because he wants to make oodles of money from lectures, memoirs, and the prestige he'll get from his lavish presidential library.

He moves to Mooseport to rediscover his roots and, more important, to get away from the wife he recently divorced.

Romano plays the local handyman - called Handy, which gives you some idea of how imaginative Mooseport is, not to mention the movie's screenplay.

When the village's mayor dies, Handy announces his willingness to serve in the small-time position. Then he learns the town elders have offered the post to Cole, who's given his word to accept it.

Handy agrees to bow out. But when he discovers Cole is now courting a Mooseport woman he's been indecisively dating for years, he decides to battle his rival every way he can: in romance, electoral politics, and even golf.

Hackman kicks all his comic ingenuity into the tale, as do Maura Tierney as the woman he woos, Rip Torn as a high- powered politico, and Harden as a presidential assistant, a role so badly underwritten it hardly exists.

Romano tries hard, but it takes real big-screen talent to draw laughs and emotions from material as flimsy and formulaic as the script. The eponymous headliner of "Everybody Loves Raymond" isn't nearly up to the task.

The only aspect of "Welcome to Mooseport" that really works is its parody of the mass media, which feed greedily on the rivalry between Mooseport's most popular men.

Yet these scenes are so close to the mark - more like stark realism than sardonic satire - that they're even more disheartening than the rest of the picture.

Bottom line: Hide your welcome mat.

Rated PG-13; contains vulgarity and nudity.

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