THE STORY – Police Chief Sanders unravels a web of small-town lies while investigating the bizarre murders of two women with the same name. He meets and quickly falls for Rita, a nosy neighbor who’s eager to help solve the mystery.
THE CAST – Jon Hamm, Tina Fey & Nick Mohammed
THE TEAM – John Slattery (Director) & Paul Bernbaum (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 99 Minutes
John Slattery’s new film “Maggie Moore(s)” – his second directorial effort after 2014’s “God’s Pocket” – clearly knows what audiences will find most fascinating based on the opening scene. Things kick off with a terrified woman being chased by an unknown pursuant through a motel parking lot. After she reaches a dead end, we suddenly jump to the next morning as the police are investigating her apparent murder. What’s most surprising is how police chief Jordan Sanders (Jon Hamm) reacts when he hears the name of the victim – Maggie Moore. We’ll come to learn that this is actually the second murder he’s investigating of a woman with this name – an exciting concept for a crime film, to be sure. Unfortunately, this inviting premise isn’t indicative of the quality of the film that follows. “Maggie Moore(s)” is a surprisingly sedate black comedy with a confusing mixture of tones. In fact, the only unifying quality about the film is the consistent lack of energy from both the filmmaking and performances.
It becomes apparent early on that this will be a tonally bleak affair. We’re quickly thrust into a world of modern-day ne’er-do-wells. Jay Moore (Micah Stock) owns a franchise sandwich shop. To cut costs, he has taken to ordering food from a second-hand vendor named Tommy T (Derek Basco) rather than more expensive company-approved merchants. Said vendor’s food is moldy and expired, and his personality is even more rotten. Spending time with them is unpleasant, although the film’s energy seems to suggest that the audience should be laughing at them. Black comedies are a tricky affair, and a mastery of tone is preeminent in terms of what’s required to pull them off successfully. It’s not impossible to make a comedy filled with irredeemable characters – just look at the better efforts of the Coen Brothers or Martin McDonagh. But it’s hard to get an audience into a chuckling mood when so many unsavory subjects are being thrown at them so quickly, and “Maggie Moore(s)” isn’t directed with enough tact or precisely calibrated energy to pull off such a feat.
Nor is the direction impressive enough in a technical sense to make up for these inconsistencies. Slattery’s uninspired camera does little to attract the audience’s attention, and the unhurried editing does nothing to help the film’s somnambulant pacing.
In fact, the talented ensemble has seemingly been directed to be as static as possible. While this might make sense to a point for the characters played by Hamm and Tina Fey, who are both getting over difficult relationships, there’s little about their character work to make the audience want to spend time with them. They have decent chemistry in the beginning stages of their potential relationship – they’ve previously played partners to great success on “30 Rock.” But once they reach an impasse as a pair, too many scenes consist of them bickering about personality differences that would make more sense as a conflict for a teenage couple, not two fully-grown adults. Stock is the only actor who is able to rise above the sleepy direction, turning in a performance as a pathetic, contemptible man that’s strangely captivating.
Unfortunately, one commendable performance is hardly enough to bolster an otherwise deflated film. “Maggie Moore(s)” strives for a wicked balance of upsetting subject matter with devilish humor, but John Slattery’s flat direction can’t successfully pull off this difficult contrast.