Middle Men (2010) Review

Sex. Go ahead and say it. Spell it out if it makes you more comfortable — but also remember that if it weren’t for sex you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Technically, if not directly. Well, rather directly, actually. Feel free to thank your parents. Telepathically.

So yeah — sex. The opening scenes of Middle Men will remind audience members  that sex is not only everywhere, but it is easily accessible and relatively anonymous — a privilege, one could say, that many today take for granted. The technology of today dates even fifteen years back as a long, long time ago. The modern generation will concur that more, easier, and faster is better — and most anyone will tell you that if you want something enough, it’s worth paying for. If that’s how it is today for most any product of popular demand, imagine something as specific and intimidating as the adult industry knocking at your door — at your request, no less — and not knowing how exactly to entertain it.

Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht) are the two smarter-than-they-look fools who literally cash in on this idea, charging a subscription to fresh and frequent pornographic material at the low cost of only $9.99. It is in their run-down landfill of a living room in which the idea is born, and bam! — two and two is four (or rather, barbiturates and cocaine is a multi-million dollar idea). But with any get-rich-quick idea there is a price to be paid — especially when that price is a promise to a Russian mob boss and club owner — one Nikita Sokoloff (Rade Sherbedgia) — namely, part of the profits for filming his club girls in tantalizing situations. Beering and Dolby find themselves in way over their heads in drugs, fake body parts, and threats so much that “fix-it” businessman Jack Harris (Luke Wilson) is called upon to, well, fix things. You know, before someone really gets screwed. With the goal of refining the situation — redistributing the chaos by declaring themselves ‘middle men’ in the process — they’re still able to make insane amounts of cash in a way that will more efficiently satisfy their needs and the needs of others — generally speaking. Which is always a good thing.

Oh yeah, and somehow the FBI gets involved.

If it sounds like there’s a lot going on, there is. Being that this is a comedy and a drama, there are many ways that this film could go — and go it does, in every which way. In the one moment you’re nervously laughing harder than necessary at Ribisi and Macht pummeling each other in a drug-induced rage, you’re empathizing with the plight of Wilson’s portrayal of the family man, all while recoiling at the presence of  any and all snakes in the grass. Hinged on a script based on the experiences of producer Christopher Mallick, what makes this film at least interesting — if not completely different — is wondering which parts are fictionalized and which parts are drawn from real-life.

Middle Men works the visual angle to the film-goer’s benefit — concerning one’s fragile but over-worked state of mind while on drugs as much as it does when sex wags its little bunny tail at one who is trying not to lick their chops so obviously. There is also much care in moving from character perception to character perception, often in the same scene, whether isolated by chaos or surrounded by it. It proves to be seamless but not reeking of trying too hard, therefore reinforcing the reality of human imperfection and that, for good or bad, sometimes you just want a way out.

All of this brings to the fore of what’s different about this kind of comedy and the other similar bouncing-off-the-walls comedies out there today and that would be the prevailing dark undertone. When it is hilarious or borderline obscene there is an aura of foreboding where there’s no sure way of knowing exactly how, when or if. Even with room left to let the plot unfold further, why manages to get answered really quickly. The story itself dances so much between the lines of pleasure and pain that it’s almost impossible to not get involved no matter where you are on the fence of real-life or fiction.