Credit: Chicken Soup For the Soul Entertainment/Screen Media Gems
by Andrew Dignan Featured Film Genre Views

Maggie Moore(s) — John Slattery

June 22, 2023

Jon Hamm and Tina Fey, two of the most beloved television actors of the 21st century, have been orbiting each other for so long that it’s a little surprising they haven’t shared more screen time together. Hamm famously appeared in a multi-episode arc of 30 Rock as a love interest to Fey’s Liz Lemon, and has reportedly been cast in the upcoming Mean Girls: The Musical film version that Fey has adapted from her stage play, but it does feel like the two would have worked together more by this point. With their up-for-anything attitudes and dependable comedic timing, the actors would have been (in a perfect world) a modern-day Tracy and Hepburn pairing. It comes as no surprise, then, that the best parts of Maggie Moore(s) are the scenes where Hamm’s widower police chief, Jordan Sanders, and Fey’s divorcee, Rita Grace, attempt to navigate a new relationship together in their early fifties, working through their collective neurosis and trepidations. Both performers expertly convey vulnerability and self-doubt, each recognizing that they’re standing in their own way of happiness and love. Regrettably, this is a mere subplot of what’s an otherwise overplotted and manic crime caper — a sweet middle-aged romance being crowded out by assorted murder-for-hires, Neo-Nazis, deaf assassins, and pedophiles.

Presumably taking inspiration from the part in The Terminator where Arnold Schwarzenegger works his way through the phonebook, killing a couple of unlucky Sarah Connors before arriving at the correct one (a title card at the beginning of this film which informs us that “some of this actually happened…” seems dubious), the eponymous Maggie Moores refer to two dead women, each brutally murdered by the towering deaf and dumb contract killer Kosco (Happy Anderson), hired by one of the women’s husbands, Jay (Micah Stock). Jay is an over-leveraged sub shop franchisee so short on cash that he buys discount (and expired) meat and cheese from the criminally-connected sex offender Tommy T (Derek Basco). For reasons too vague for the film to explain, Jay unwittingly comes into possession of child pornography meant for Tommy T, which has somehow fallen into the hands of Jay’s estranged wife, Maggie (Louisa Krause), who’s understandably horrified. She not only refuses to give the photos back to her soon-to-be ex, but even threatens to call the cops on him. Being squeezed by both Tommy T and his own wife, Jay hires Kosco to retrieve the photos, only for the lumbering henchman — who communicates entirely by scribbling messages on a legal pad which he immediately shreds — to take the assignment a bit too far, incinerating Maggie and leaving her smoldering corpse in the desert.

Convinced that the cops are closing in on him, Jay’s next big idea is to send Kosco to kill a second, wholly uninvolved woman also named Maggie Moore (Mary Holland) who’s living in the same town, in order to sow chaos and throw the police off his scent. And though it works, it also opens up several additional pathways of wacky criminality and malfeasance, introducing us to an adulterous husband (Christopher Denham) and a jealous white nationalist (Tate Ellington). Left to untangle this mess is Hamm’s police chief and his sardonic deputy, Reddy (Nick Mohammed of Ted Lasso fame), who can’t quite scratch the itch that something isn’t adding up even as the case appears to tie itself with a neat little bow. And then of course there’s Rita — Jay and Maggie’s nosey next-door neighbor — whom Jordan has a thing for, but he’s letting the feelings he still harbors for his own dead wife prevent him from moving on to someone new.

Frankly, it’s a lot to keep straight, and director John Slattery (best known for playing Hamm’s Mad Men drinking buddy, Roger Sterling) appears to be overwhelmed by the assignment. The film regularly loses track of characters and prominent storylines while continuing to accumulate new subplots as it moves along, like a hoarder rummaging through an estate sale. At only 99 minutes, Maggie Moore(s) is overstuffed, forcing it to rush payoffs or simply infer outcomes for some of its dozen-plus supporting characters. Even more off-putting is its tonal disarray. We get lingering shots of charred corpses still sizzling, splattery brain matter framed against plate glass windows, allusions to child sexual exploitation alongside what can only be described as a Nazi dungeon decorated with concentration camp uniforms and “1488” posters. Yet the overarching vibe is one that unsubtly elbows the viewer in the ribs, almost as if the film were saying, “get a load of all these losers.” The grievances are picayune, the perpetrators are visibly out of their depth, and the film keeps getting caught up in sitcom digressions (there’s even a running gag about Hamm scolding Mohammed for speaking in clichés and making barely off-color jokes at crime scenes). Charitably, one could ascribe the Coen brothers’ influence onto the film, although theirs is such a sui generis alchemy of deadpan comedy and horrifying violence; Slattery never comes close to achieving a similar balance.

One wishes Maggie Moore(s) had simply dropped all the dumb criminals and scheming to focus on the relationship between Hamm and Fey’s characters, which is plenty interesting in its own right. He’s gun-shy and guarded; she tends towards self-deprecation in order to obscure her fear of commitment. The scenes between them are understated and hopeful, yet both hold back out of fear of getting hurt, which lends their interactions a mysterious tension that keeps them from becoming treacly. For all the sprawl and mayhem of multiple dead wives and bloody shootouts, the real messiness of the film — the stuff that makes you brace for the timebomb at its center to spectacularly go off — is watching these two actors awkwardly pull down the walls they’ve built around themselves. It’s not as conventionally thrilling or performatively edgy as all the surrounding material, but it’s the only part of the film which feels true to itself.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 24

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