Ever wonder what, and who, made the internet what it is today? Well the answer’s fairly simple, porn, and the horny guys that uploaded the first adult videos and pictures to the web; two idiot/geniuses with massive IQ’s and not a great deal of sense; who wound up in getting involved with the DA, the FBI, a crooked lawyer, and even the Russian mob; in a tale that’s almost too unreal to be true, but re-told in Middle Men.
While Middle Men is only inspired by true events, and remains far from a realistic account of what happened to the men involved, it’s a fun tale that follows successful businessman Jack Harris (Luke Wilson, Old School) as he’s drafted in to sort out the lives of Wayne (Giovani Ribisi, Avatar) and Buck (Gabriel Macht, Behind Enemey Lines); two horny, coke addled, weirdos who, while searching for something new to jerk off to, came up with the brilliant idea of putting things on the internet (things being porn pictures and videos), and charging people’s credit cards to look at them (something Amazon, Visa, and MasterCard were years away from developing), but went and got involved with the Russian mob in order to set up the initial financing.
We then follow family-man Jack, as he is thrown in the world within which Wayne and Buck have found themselves; suddenly making hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, flying in private jets, making payoffs to the mob, and being constantly surrounded by the most beautiful pornstars in the business (a situation which Jack’s wife; who’s played by Poseidon’s Jacinda Barrett; is decidedly none to happy about); and has to contend with not only the mob, but a number of other issues that often affect the lives of the suddenly rich businessmen; including having a Senator looking to shut him down, a crooked lawyer (played by The Godfather’s James Caan) looking for any piece of dirt to blackmail him with, a possible FBI investigation, the unethical practices of some of the porn-peddlers his company gets involved with, and the small matter of a murder hanging over the whole affair, and threatening to land everyone in jail, or worse.
With everything that’s going on in Middle Men it’s clearly an overly fictionalized version of events, yet it’s interesting to wonder just how much of it could be true, and with the events playing out in this fun a manner, it doesn’t really matter; as the adventures of Jack, his sudden escalation to millionaire status, and the numerous problems he faces along the road to happiness, are something that’s it’s hard not to get caught up in and enjoy; it’s like watching a feature-length version of Entourage, because everyone wants to be like Jack, and would love to become that rich, that fast, and would hope they can deal with the problems that continue to get thrown at him.
Luke Wilson’s also perfectly cast in the role, and is believable throughout; suiting the average guy in extraordinary circumstances he plays here, and remains both likable and watchable throughout; as are Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht (whose banter is simply brilliant), and all of the eye-candy that surrounds Jack throughout the film, and pads out the more central and brilliantly crafted, larger-than-life, characters.
Supporting actors are also a pleasure to watch, as not only is James Caan appearing as a bent lawyer looking to make a buck great (it’s always a bonus when Jimmy Caan turns up in a movie), but you’ve got the likes of Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) playing a seedy politician (which he does unsurprisingly well), The Expendables’ Terry Crews playing Jack’s friend/muscle James, and appearances from Graham McTavish (Rambo), Kevin Pollak (The Usual Suspects), and The Covenant’s Laura Ramsey; who has all the looks she needs to play the beautiful, 23-year-old, pornstar with whom Jack grows just a little too close.
Decent casting, brilliant (almost comic-like) characters, plenty of twists, and the aspiration that every viewer has to live the high-life, makes Middle Men a success (that and it’s interestingly quirky visual style, superb narration, and extremely funny comedy), and while it may not have made it to the cinemas in this country, and basically requires you to ignore the ‘inspired by true events’ byline, it’s still well worth a look, heaps of fun to watch, has a satisfying (though slightly neat) conclusion, and plays out like Entourage meets Confidence (which can only be a good thing).
In terms of video quality, the Middle Men DVD stands up almost as well as the film itself; sporting a strong level of fine detail (at least in the close-up shots, as it tends to dip at length), luscious colour and impressive contrast levels, accompanied by decent blacks, and skintones that like the colour palette as a whole tend to appear a little warm, yet are always consistent, and never pushed to extremes.
A layer of grain helps provide Middle Men with a pleasingly film-like look, and as it manages to create a sense of depth, and suffer from only negligible banding, it’s a satisfying transfer that should please fans of the film, but never quite reaches the standard needed to impress true videophiles.
Similarly the 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track awarded to the release is easily capable of reproducing what it needs to, though never overwhelming; while there are a decent amount of atmospherics emanating from the surround channels in the various club scenes and other assorted venues, there’s never quite enough to feel totally engrossing, or 100% lifelike, but thankfully the track’s dialogue representation is just about perfect, and as crisp and clear as can be (even in the many scenes where fights, and mumbling, could have presented a problem), and the movie’s music also sounds strong (and is reinforced by the often relaxed LFE channel); meaning it handles the basics with ease, and suffers from no problems, but remains far from a memorable track.
Once again fans are treated to an average mix with the special features; which consist of an audio commentary, a selection of three deleted scenes (one of which is well worth a watch and adds a bit of background to Jack’s character, another isn’t needed whatsoever, and the final one is simply average), a handful of outtakes (a brief selection of foul-ups which aren’t too amusing), and a montage of the film’s various slaps (which being as brief as it is, and set to music, is actually more entertaining than it sounds; but still nothing more than filler material).
Other than that, there is an audio commentary to be found; which is one any film student is bound to love, as without including any of the castmembers (voices heard are those of the director, editor, and cinematographer) it becomes a lot more technical a discussion than most, and discusses topics such as the film’s shooting style, the way in which the team tried to create interesting visuals to accompany the movie’s narration, and it’s subtle special effects; making a well rounded selection of bonus content, and one that’s bound to satisfy its fans (just about), but doesn’t provide too much background on the production, or the real story behind Middle Men.
The Bottom Line:
It might not be the most memorable film ever, and is clearly overly fictionalized, but Middle Men is one of the most fun films released last year, and clearly warranted more than a straight-to-DVD release; as it’s received in this country (much like the criminally underrated Defendor); and while you’re watching, it really doesn’t matter if the events are true or not, because the characters are engaging, the story is engrossing, the style of Middle Men just screams fun, and it’s not only darkly funny, but the type of film an Entourage movie would aspire to be like; but with a couple of thrills, a few spills, and the odd twist thrown in for good measure; making it an enjoyable film that just about everyone should enjoy; because who doesn’t want to become an overnight millionaire, meet James Caan, and reside only one step away from the porn industry?
Sure the picture, audio, and special features, don’t exactly bowl fans over with their impressiveness, yet they all provide much more than the bare minimum required of them, have some great qualities, and do a solid job of bringing the film to DVD, and along with the strong cast, and overall level of fun created by this engaging film, it comes highly recommended.