Saturday, November 16, 2013

Middle Men (2009) **½

I’m proposing a rule for movies “based on a true story.”  The movie shouldn’t be completely initiated and financed by the guy the story is about.  “Middle Men” purports to tell the story of real-life entrepreneur Chris Mallick, who, along with some partners, developed the online credit card payment sites that allow people across the world to discreetly pay for internet porn, online gambling, and so on.  Mallick ultimately had fallings-out with his partners and customers, but you won’t see their side of the story in “Middle Men.“  The film is Mallick’s brain-child, financed out of his personal fortune, and it is very much his version of things.  That’s not to say that “Middle Men” is a bad movie.  I actually found it quite enjoyable.  The problem is that once you read the history of this film, you realize it is just a dodgy businessman’s attempt to whitewash his reputation, and the whole movie starts to look like a joke.
In the film, Mallick is represented by the character Jack Harris (Luke Wilson), an honorable family man with a history of organized crime connections, but a heart full of good intentions.  His specialty is “solving problems,” because he is so astute and so good at listening to people that he is able to find solutions to seemingly hopeless situations.  He helps a friend keep an L.A. nightclub afloat, and somehow the club ends up becoming his.  Then he meets Wayne (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck (Gabriel Macht), a couple of idiots who have written the first program to allow credit-card payments over the internet.  They are using the program to run a successful porn site, but they are in trouble with their Russian-mafia partners.  Jack sorts out their problems, then helps them take the business to the next level as an international clearinghouse for porn subscriptions.  As the money comes rolling in, Jack struggles valiantly to keep himself clean and straight amid the sleazy porn industry.
Luke Wilson is pretty good in the role.  His good-guy charm is a perfect fit for the perpetually agreeable Jack Harris.  At some point, however, you have to stop and ask why this character is so squeaky-clean, so perfectly decent.  The answer, of course, is that the man on whom Jack is based is the man financing the film.  For the story behind the movie, see this link for an interview with Chris Mallick.
Standing on its own, “Middle Men” is pretty entertaining, although I did start to find the knight-in-shining-armor version of Jack to be unbelievable.  After reading up on the background of the film, I find I can’t take it seriously as anything more than the deluded revenge fantasy of an unscrupulous businessman who has sacrificed a lot of relationships to make his fortune, but can’t give up on his good-guy image of himself.

2.5 stars out of 5


Chris said...

I actually enjoyed your review about Christopher Mallick and the real story behind the whitewash film.
For an update, see the link in this post. It is rather fascinating watching how Christopher Mallick treated people in real life and how he still hasn't returned customer account funds.

Alex said...

After all these years Christopher Mallick still denies he did anything wrong or owes anyone a cent. Believe it or not I still haven't seen this film despite (unknowingly) financing it to the tune of many thousands of dollars. Should of at least got a mention in the credits.. if folks bothered hanging around that long to see them..