Middle Men is one of the best films of the year so far, even though it seems to be unable to find an audience, as it's box office results are beyond disappointing.
The film tells the story of Wayne (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck (Gabriel Macht), two girl chasing, drug using, morons living the life in L.A. in the late 90's.
Buck is (believe it or not) a rocket scientist that seizes upon the idea of using the internet as not only a free for all service, like TV or radio broadcasts, but also as a pay per view service by creating a program by which people can pay with their credit card on-line to access certain material (porn). It's hard to believe it's been so few years that we've been able to buy things on-line.
Of course the boys are in over their heads as the money starts rolling in to their site full of naughty pictures they scanned and uploaded from dirty magazines.
At that same time Jack (Luke Wilson), a struggling businessman from Houston, is asked to go to L.A. to help run a new bar for a friend who has taken ill.
When Wayne and Buck's user base begin clamoring for new content, the hapless duo approach a local strip club owner Nikita (Rade Serbedzija), unaware that he's the head of the Russian mafia in the L.A. area, promising him a percentage of the profits for permission to take video of the naked girls at his club.
Wayne and Buck then blow all the profits from the porn site business in Las Vegas, neglecting to give Nikita his cut first. They are beaten to a pulp and given very little time to come up with the money.
Enter Jerry (James Caan), a sleazy Vegas lawyer who contacts Jack, who has always been good at negotiating his way out of tough problems, to help Wayne and Buck out of their jam.
Jack instantly realizes that it's not the porn site itself that has the true money making potential, but the program Buck created to be able to access funds from anyone's bank account or credit card all over the world for whatever service they wish to access, while receiving a very generic looking bill (24/7 Billing looks a lot better on your bank statement than Hot Sex Kittens). They would just be the middle men taking a cut of the profits from the endless porn sites that wish to use them to access funds of clients and serve as a buffer.
As Jack uses his night club's money to bail the boys out with Nikita, he soon finds that he must sink deeper into this hard core world of porn (his client base), and organized crime (the Russian Mob now wants a bigger cut). While growing more estranged from his wife and family back home in Houston, and developing a sexual fascination with Audrey (Laura Ramsey), a porn star he meets at a party.
The film takes some weird, funny, violent twists and turns on it's way to becoming a personal favorite of mine for the summer season, filled with dark humor, marvelously twisted characters, and sublime performances.
On the acting front, Luke Wilson has never been better than he is here as the everyman caught between two worlds and wondering into which one he truly fits. Ribisi is profoundly and brilliantly manic as the strung out (usually) Wayne. And James Caan must've known more than a few sleaze ball Vegas lawyers in his day as he plays the shyster with the fangs out and the sneer on.
It's sad that Middle Men will not be seen as by as many people as it should, perhaps people don't want to be reminded of just why the porn industry is a multi-billion dollar business that shows no sign of waning, even in these tough economic times.
Watching it I kept thinking that yes, this is the underbelly of life alright, but it's truly a gritty, carnal depiction of it, with an unapologetic, in your face style, that makes it great!