Middle Men (2009)

(On DVD, April 2010) Some worthwhile films fall through the cracks, and this is one of them: A slick mixture of laughs and thrills set against the turn-of-the-century internet porn rush, Middle Men features slick editing, a snappy soundtrack, plenty of nudity, some good screenwriting, a surprising number of recognizable actors and slick cinematography to deliver a fairly enjoyable film.  The voice-over narration wraps up a film that pleasantly jumps back and forth in time (sometimes for mere seconds), explains the way pornography has been a significant factor in the internet’s popularization and reaffirms why doing business with the Russian mob is always a bad idea.  (The unrated DVD also has a bravura long-shot set at an orgy that actually manages to make a narrative point.)  Luke Wilson is the film’s likable protagonist, a businessman who accidentally becomes a porn mogul.  Surrounding him are such notables as James Caan as a crooked lawyer, Kelsey Grammar in a memorable one-scene sketch, Kevin Pollak as a sympathetic FBI agent and a near-unrecognizable Giovanni Ribisi as a paranoid inventor.  Taken on its own terms, Middle Men is a fast-paced film that feels considerably bigger than its small budget, with enough good narrative moments to leave a good impression.  It has a few flaws, like a few unnecessary emotional flashbacks, a too-innocent hero and a script that could have been tightened, but nothing major.  But the film isn’t the whole story: the behind-the-scenes drama is almost as interesting as the end result.  Some digging quickly reveals that Middle Men is not only based on a true story, but that the businessman whose story it is actually financed the production of the film itself… and lost most of its money when the movie failed at the box-office.  The post-film real story features accusations of fraud, broken bones and other unpleasantness… enough to set up a sequel or two.

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