Middle Men, 2009.
Directed by George Gallo.
Starring Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht, James Caan, Kevin Pollak and Rade Serbedzija.
Jack Harris, a middle man for various dodgy dealings, ends up helping two genius stoners create the first internet billing system for pornography websites in the late nineties. But the illegitimate business connections they have made soon turn nasty.
I’m more than happy to admit it. I’m a man; therefore, chances are I’ve indulged in the more erotic side of the internet. Wait! Don’t look at me like that. You’ve probably seen enough filth to drown a newsagents before you clicked onto this site. I know you have. And what’s more, I’ve bet you paid with your credit card too. Did you ever stop to wonder how that secure payment system came about? The one that replaces Backdoor Beauties with a vague business title so the wife/mother/boss doesn’t suspect a thing. Maybe you should give the recent Luke Wilson vehicle a ride in that case.
Middle Men is a near to truth story about the creation of the internet porn industry and all of the dodgy back dealings that went with it. The centre of this dirty piece is Jack Harris (played by a slightly chubbier Luke Wilson), a family man from Texas who is, well, a middle man. The doers do, the thinkers think, and Jack liaises between the two. We first see him sorting out mob dealings, where thanks to his persistence and rational thinking, he avoids a man getting kneecapped and makes the kneecapper richer. He’s that kind of fixer.
Then we have the two stoner geniuses, Wayne and Buck. Whilst living in what appears to be Pete Docherty’s toilet, the pair are exceptionally intelligent (did I mention they were geniuses?). They come up with the idea to start and internet service that charges fidgety handed men the chance to view filth via the medium of dial up. This is the start of the first ever internet pornography service. After a violent meeting with the local Russian boss about filming girls in his topless bar for money, the pair start raking in more money and material for the dirty service. Then that’s where Jack enters there life.
Jack helps the two refine the business by coming up with the idea for an anonymous billing service that handles the card payments for the website. From then on, everything gets into the rock star lifestyle. As stories go, it plays out like a Scorsese film trying to be like Guy Ritchie. Jack constantly narrates through the film so often, I kept thinking I was watching a nudey version of Goodfellas. And the gangsters film nods don’t stop there. As well as the inclusion of Sixties and Seventies rock, there’s also appearances from James Caan (him out of The Godfather) and Rade Serbedzija (him out of Snatch), so it starts to feel like not only does George Gallo want you to notice certain codes and conventions he’s borrowing, he wants to wave the actors in your face like a patronising clue.
There’s also an issue with what genre this film fits into. It’s labelled as a ‘Comedy-Drama’, but I barely found myself laughing. But I couldn’t stop watching. Maybe they got the pace right in this one. The jokes feel too crass and ‘for the sake of it’ to actually find funny, but moments where Jack wrangles himself, and others, out of certain danger made me laugh heartily. The unexpected cameo from Kelsey Grammar raised a large smile as well. The closing act of the film ditches the entire comedy aspect and turns into a thriller, but doesn’t feel like such an awkward gear change. It’s only when you’re reminded that this started off very light-hearted, does such a jarring juxtaposition become apparent. Whilst it won’t make you laugh out loud, Middle Men is perfect for fans of Scorsese who want something a bit milder. Diet Scorsese, if you will.
Will Preston is a freelance writer from Portsmouth. He writes for various blogs (including his own website) and makes short films.