Directed by John Slattery in his feature debut and starring Jon Hamm, the real mystery of Maggie Moore(s) is…why was this even made?
If you ask someone what they believe the greatest show of all time is, chances are decent that they’ll bring up Mad Men (which premiered in 2007) within the first few guesses. For seven seasons we watched those Madison Avenue ad men drink whatever they could, sleep with whoever they could, and create copy for any brand they could. One of the mainstays of Mad Men was of course Mr. Roger Sterling himself, played by John Slattery, along with Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the starring role. Reuniting these actors in a dark comedy murder mystery directed by Slattery and starring Hamm should unite fans of the show, to be certain. So it’s a shame Slattery killed Maggie Moore(s) within the first 20 minutes.
The film has a simple enough plot. In a small desert town, where the Chief of Police is busier attending writing classes at night than he is investigating crime, two women, both named Maggie Moore, turn up dead. Jon Hamm plays Chief Jordan Sanders who, along with Deputy Reddy (played by Ted Lasso star Nick Mohammed) starts to unravel the mystery behind why these two women’s deaths might be connected, if at all.
Along for the ride is Tina Fey’s Rita Grace, a neighbor to Maggie #1 and love interest to Chief Sanders. With other stand out comedic performances from Micah Stock and Happy Anderson, Maggie Moore(s) is a story of moldy meat, mangled marriages, and multiple murders.
Inspired by true events.
As it often is the case, however, a simplistic narrative can easily become convoluted, as Chief Sanders struggles to make sense of the supposedly related crimes. Screenwriter Paul Bernbaum (Next, Halloweentown) bases the story very loosely on real-life events, which in turn grounds the police procedural developments and plays directly against what you would probably expect. Popular shows like Barry and Dexter have trained audiences to accept stories where criminals cover up murders while police give up in favor of easy answers, regardless of what the evidence suggests.
In a surprisingly refreshing portrayal, Deputy Reddy and others jump to face value conclusions about the Maggie Moore case even as Chief Sanders can’t shake the overwhelming feeling that something isn’t quite right. That said, he’s equally invested in unraveling the movie’s biggest mystery of all: his own love life. Put simply, Slattery jumps back and forth between crime drama and romantic comedy to the movie’s tonal detriment.
Slattery’s most impressive, but unfortunate feat as director.
Beyond its inconsistent, unbalanced genres, there’s actually a third death in Maggie Moore(s). The murder of Jon Hamm’s charisma. It takes a great deal of directorial malpractice to make Jon Hamm, one of Hollywood’s suavest leading men, appear both bored and boring. Lacking any of the wit and charm we’ve seen from him in similar roles like Confess, Fletch or when he commands a scene in films like Top Gun: Maverick, Hamm’s Chief Sanders has zero chemistry with his costars. It’s almost as if Slattery accidentally used rehearsal takes in the final cut of the edit.
Slattery has stated he felt drawn to the story due to the meandering motivations of the central characters. Their loneliness and search for emotional connection surely makes for compelling drama, and that existential emptiness is evident in the film itself. But what Slattery fails to accomplish is any advancement or development on screen until the final minutes, epitomized by a lazily executed voice-over epilogue.
The bottom line.
Maggie Moore(s) is by no means an irredeemable movie, but it’s far from being one worth watching. Its greatest failure is its aversion to taking a risks that would truly make it a great failure. It’s comfortably mediocre beyond a handful of solid comedic scenes and at least one legitimately shocking moment that begs for a better movie that deserves it. Case closed.
Maggie Moore(s) is now playing in theaters and on demand. Watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of Screen Media. Read more articles by Mike Overhulse here.
MAGGIE MOORE(S) - 5.5/10