⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Run Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
Stars: Jon Hamm, Tina Fey, Nick Mohammed, Micah Stock
Writer: Paul Bernbaum
Director: John Slattery
In Theaters and On Demand
Reviewed at the Tribeca Film Festival
If I could, through sheer will, make a movie better than it is, that movie would be Maggie Moore(s), a thriller/comedy that sincerely longs to breathe the rarified air of a Coen Brothers classic but sadly lets down not only its audience, but also its valiantly committed cast.
Jon Hamm (Mad Men) stars as Jordan, a small-town New Mexico police chief investigating the gruesome murder of one Maggie Moore, a local woman whose rocky marital relationship has focused the spotlight of suspicion upon her husband, Jay (Micah Stock of TV’s The Right Stuff).
That suspicion is well-founded: Jay is, indeed, responsible for Maggie’s awful death. He didn’t mean for her to die; he hired a local tough guy to only frighten Maggie into backing off on certain threats she’d made against him. But Jay did not reckon on the contractor going whole-Grand Guignol, leaving behind nothing of Maggie but a burnt corpse.
Realizing he’s all but hung a “The Husband Did It” sign around his neck, Jay resorts to a desperate measure: When he learns by chance that there is another woman living nearby with the same name as his late wife, he pays the guy to kill her as well, hoping the cops will suspect the first Maggie Moore murder was a case of mistaken identity.
None of the foregoing is remotely a spoiler; indeed, the murder of the second Maggie Moore occurs in the film’s opening scene. And because we know who did what almost immediately, the fun of Maggie Moore(s) is supposed to come from watching Jay’s complex, if harebrained, plan unravel thanks to the dogged police work of a likable local cop. If that premise has you thinking “Wait a minute…Fargo…?” you’re not alone.
It doesn’t take a master detective to determine that writer Paul Bernbaum (Hollywoodland) and director John Slattery (a well-known character actor who also directed Hamm in five episodes of Mad Men) took copious notes from the Coens’ Fargo and Blood Simple in fashioning Maggie Moore(s). But placing tracing paper over a classic plot is one thing; fashioning sharp dialogue and sustaining a comic-yet-suspenseful narrative are something else.
Maggie Moore(s) commits two sins, the first being its jumbled, almost random structure: Starting with the second murder, then flashing back a week to the first killing, then showing the second killing again (using the same shots), then plowing ahead through the final stages of the investigation. Peppered in amongst the murders and intrigues are vignettes exploring the emerging — and only tangentially connected — romance between Jordan and Jay’s next door neighbor, gamely played by Tina Fey.
Sin number two is more grievous: The script wastes an absolutely fantastic cast that, despite the insurmountable flaws, still manages to offer winning performances that seem to be from another film. Hamm is his usual disarming self, with that rolling voice and those chiseled features softened by a pair of kind, searching eyes. Fey is a delight as always, even though here she seems to have been asked to play two characters: One an emotionally damaged victim of a disastrous relationship; the other a smart-aleck wisecracker straight out of a screwball comedy.
The most pleasant surprise here is Nick Mohammed — the British actor fresh from an Emmy-nominated gig playing the “Wonderkid” on TV’s Ted Lasso — as Jordan’s subservient yet defiantly truth-telling deputy. His is the one character in this film that we’ve never seen before; too bad he gets treated rather shabbily by the script.
You have to feel sorry for Stock, who gives his all in the role of the scheming/stupid husband. When Stock read this script, he must have heard echoes of William H. Macy’s hapless hubby in Fargo, a role that catapulted Macy to stardom. But we never really get a look inside Jay’s head; as written, he goes from moronic to murderous in one unconvincing moment.
Maggie Moore(s) wastes its promising story and its more-than-game cast. And that’s a real crime.
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