The Hamm-Fey reunion in Maggie Moore(s) is a flop

It gives me no joy to report that the movie is a disappointment, a leaden pastiche of Coen brothers’ films.

 TINA FEY and Jon Hamm share comic rhythm in ‘Maggie Moore(s)’ . (photo credit: United King Films)
TINA FEY and Jon Hamm share comic rhythm in ‘Maggie Moore(s)’ .
(photo credit: United King Films)

Some of the best episodes on 30 Rock, the show created by and starring former Saturday Night Live head writer, Tina Fey, were those where Fey’s love interest was a gorgeous but very stupid doctor, played by Jon Hamm. Hamm, of course, is best known for his leading role on Mad Men, a dramatic series with occasional comic moments – but it turns out he has a flair for goofy comedy. Their episodes together were sublimely funny, with Hamm playing against his leading-man type.

So I was very pleased to learn that Fey and Hamm were starring together in a new black comedy, Maggie Moore(s), that just had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and which opens in theaters throughout Israel on June 15. The movie was directed by Hamm’s Mad Men co-star, John Slattery, who also appeared on 30 Rock. Slattery got most of the funny lines in Mad Men, but also brought out the depth in the cynical character he played. Again, this raised my expectations for Maggie Moore(s), and its 30 Rock/Mad Men reunion, even higher.

It gives me no joy to report that the movie is a disappointment, a leaden pastiche of Coen brothers’ films that I would have walked out of halfway had I not been reviewing it.

Slattery and the screenwriter, Paul Bernbaum, obviously loved the Coen brothers’ 1996 film, Fargo, and I suppose Maggie Moore(s) can be seen as an homage to it – so clearly does it mimic or reference certain scenes in that film.

Imitating the Coen brothers doesn't work

A central plot thread involves a husband who pays a hit man to frighten his wife, but things get out of hand and she is killed, much like the central kidnapping gone awry that sparks the action of Fargo. But while the Coens are masters of their own distinctive style, imitating them is a losing game, even with stars like Fey and Hamm.

 TINA FEY and Jon Hamm share comic rhythm in ‘Maggie Moore(s)’  (credit: United King Films)
TINA FEY and Jon Hamm share comic rhythm in ‘Maggie Moore(s)’ (credit: United King Films)

Any summary of the plot will make it sound better than it is, so be forewarned. The movie is set in a small southwestern town that looks like something out of Breaking Bad, where everyone has some kind of cute quirk. Hamm plays Jordan Sanders, the weathered, socially inept police chief in a small town. Widowed, he hasn’t been in a relationship since his wife died, and his only pleasure, other than having soup while he watches Jeopardy, is writing portentous, but surprisingly good, confessional short stories that he reads aloud in an adult education class.

Sanders is the sympathetic figure that the story revolves around, like the pregnant sheriff played by Frances McDormand in Fargo. His deputy (Nick Mohammed, who plays Nathan on Ted Lasso, gives a winning performance here) makes sardonic remarks about Jordan’s lack of a girlfriend and everything else. Soon, the two are busy investigating the murders of two women named Maggie Moore.

One of the victims had a husband, Jay (Micah Stock), who owns a Subway-esque sandwich franchise where he runs a scam by buying spoiled food at a low price and pocketing the rest of the budget, which leads to a lot of jokes about disgusting, moldy food, none of which are even remotely funny. His partner in the scam is a child pornographer and the two engage in cutesy banter, perhaps more reminiscent of poor attempts to imitate Tarantino than the Coens. The other victim’s husband is having an affair with an attention-seeking young woman, and there are also jokes about a neo-Nazi who was harassing the victim at work.

If you’re still reading, it’s probably because you wonder where Fey fits into this. She plays Rita, a lonely, divorced casino worker who is a neighbor of one of the victims, and with whom Jordan becomes instantly smitten. Fey is convincing as one of the smartest people in this little town, and she gives the police some key clues. Any fun to be had here is in trying to identify which scene in Fargo is being referenced at any particular moment, but will just make you long to see that film again.

When a movie this bad is made with such a high-profile cast, I like to read the credits carefully to try to piece together who was involved and how they let it happen. I couldn’t help noticing that there were 25 people listed as producers and executive producers on Maggie Moore(s). By contrast, Titanic had seven and Fargo had five. Who knows what went on among all of them, but perhaps this proves the adage that “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Or maybe it would have been even worse had there been fewer producers – it’s impossible to know.

The few good lines and moments, not surprisingly, come in the scenes with Hamm and Fey. It is great to see them together again and in a couple of their scenes they get a little of their comic rhythm back from their 30 Rock days, but not enough to make it worthwhile sitting through this entire movie. Wait for it to become available on a streaming service and then you can fast-forward to their scenes.