LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Although comparisons to "Boogie Nights" are unavoidable, "Middle Men," a lively, fictionalized account of the rise of the Internet porn industry, is decidedly stimulating in its own right, at least in the early going.
Although the Luke Wilson vehicle grows more conventional, terrific supporting character turns by the likes of Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht and old pro James Caan manage to keep the energy up for the duration.
Bowing earlier this year at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, the George Gallo film could do some middle-range specialty numbers for Paramount Vantage on the strength of decent reviews. It opens in limited release on Friday.
"Middle Men" producer Christopher Mallick called upon his experiences during the late '90s and early part of this century in the burgeoning field of Internet porn commerce for inspiration, with an early eye toward developing the material as an HBO-type series.
The end feature product certainly starts off with a bang, with a pair of perpetually strung-out slackers (played to the gonzo hilt by Ribisi and Macht) stumbling upon a virtual gold mine when they devise a way to distribute online porn to anybody, anywhere in the world with a valid credit-card number.
Realizing they're going to have to start producing their own content to feed the insatiable demand, Ribisi and Macht quickly find themselves in over their heads with the Russian mob -- as personified with a glinting menace by Rade Sherbedgia.
Enter Wilson's Jack Harris, a well-scrubbed family man of a businessman with a proven rep as a "fix-it" guy who succeeds in steering the business clear of disaster while at the same time finding himself succumbing to the milieu's seductive pull.
Unfortunately, as the Ribisi and Macht characters become increasingly relegated to the sidelines, the energy goes correspondingly flaccid.
Although Wilson's a likable actor, his earnest portrayal of an earnest character ends up draining the film of its promising early zip, doing double duty with needless voice-over narration that grows more distracting as it drones on.
Gallo, who co-wrote the formulaic script with Andy Weiss, starts things off intriguingly, but he should have taken greater advantage of that winning supporting cast.
They're certainly a kick, especially Caan as a duplicitous, shyster lawyer who hangs with a seedy crowd; and Kelsey Grammer and Robert Forster register effectively in brief cameo turns.