“Maggie Moore(s)” makes the best case against marriage because, well, the husband(s) always did it. The not-quite-whodunit centers on a maybe somewhat true story — it even opens with the played-out disclaimer that “some of this actually happened” — about two women with the same name who are both killed in order to cover up the other’s murder. Think of a “Columbo” episode mixed with “Strangers on a Train,” but in the context of a comedy of errors. And unfortunately, some of those errors are in part due to a lackluster script by “Hollywoodland” scribe Paul Bernbaum, whose greatest claim to fame is the iconic “Halloweentown” film, which sadly has more suspenseful elements than “Maggie Moore(s).”
John Slattery directs the feature, his second following his 2014 drama “God’s Pocket,” with his fellow “Mad Men” alum Jon Hamm stepping in as the perfectly cast small town police chief who is tasked with uncovering what really happened to both Maggies. The running joke of both deaths being anything but murders is the strongest quip in the film, which also stars a understated Tina Fey as a nosy neighbor turned key witness (and Hamm’s love interest). Nick Mohammed plays Hamm’s cop partner, bringing the same irritated energy from “Ted Lasso.”
What could have been a breezy crime comedy instead leans on a weird plotline that involves child porn (not so fun to laugh at) and a somewhat convoluted case involving husband number one, Jay Moore (Micah Stock), who is cutting corners at his sub sandwich franchise spot and becomes tangled up in a pedophilia ring. When his wife Maggie discovers photos of underage girls, she threatens to use it as level in their pending divorce. Jay hires deaf enforcer Kosco (Happy Anderson) to scare his wife; instead, Kosco kidnaps her, kills her, and lights her car on fire to char the body.
Enter: the second Maggie Moore (Mary Holland) as a cover-up death. Who knows, maybe there really is a serial killer targeting Maggie Moores on the loose, Jay wonders. At least this element works on a basic plot level, as Stock’s character is a moron and no one is pretending this makes sense otherwise.
The strongest argument of the film is, oddly, against the institution of marriage itself, as the second Maggie’s husband actually wanted her dead anyway, all the better to run off with her $700k life insurance policy and his bartender mistress. (Hamm is a widower, Fey is a divorcee, and both seem to have the happiest relationship in the film.)
The “aw shucks” small town vibe of it all, complete with Hamm being seen as the most eligible bachelor around, eventually codes “Maggie Moore(s)” as more of a rom-com than a murder mystery. But weighed down with a cliched script a tired acting, the film doesn’t fully land either genre seamlessly. “Maggie Moore(s)” is a cute way to spend a couple hours in transit on a plane; otherwise, the only real death that sticks is two hours of your precious movie-watching time.
“Maggie Moore(s)” premiered at 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. Screen Media will release the film in theaters on Friday, June 16.