It’s never a good sign when a movie resorts to a sight gag about two dogs having marital relations, but that’s probably the best joke in “Welcome to Mooseport.”

One of those movies that fumbles a cleverish idea, “Mooseport” is about what happens when a hugely popular former president (Gene Hackman) moves to a quaint Maine town – one of those places with Ye Olde Fudge Shoppe and Ye Olde Internet Cafe. Then, Hackman finds himself competing with a local (Ray Romano) for the job of mayor.

But the movie isn’t about that. What it’s really about is two middle-aged guys fighting over a gal (Maura Tierney), and that makes watching “Welcome to Mooseport” feel more like sitting in a family room, circa 1971, sipping a Tab, munching Fiddle-Faddle and watching a synthetic, contrived movie on a black-and-white console TV. Rapacious ex-wives, smug big-city folk, hard-of-hearing oldsters, lovelorn spinsters – they’re all here and, during the phonily “romantic” ending of “Mooseport,” I actually caught myself wincing in horror at the dopiness of it all.

Mooseport is the village that time forgot, but these are the jokes that Phyllis Diller forgot. And with good reason: A running gag about Tierney not knowing her own strength isn’t funny the first time we see it, and it becomes actively irritating by the 15th time. These characters are like Monopoly pieces whose behavior is not based on who they are but on what the plot needs them to do.

The movie strives for the cracked, dizzy, New England charm of the old “Newhart” show, which had a unique point of view because the small-towners were not as innocent as they seemed. But the generic “Mooseport” has no equivalent, just ye olde tedious jokes.


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