On October 12, 2000, a Texan named Mary Morris was murdered. On October 16, 2000, a Texan named Mary Morris was murdered. The dual assassination—both clearly the work of a hitman—became legendary in the true crime community. Was the first death the act of a bumbling assassin, a hired gun who got the wrong Mary Morris and then finally finished the job? A suspicious character at the second Mary’s workplace made that seem like a viable theory. Or could the first Mary have been the target all along, and the second one killed just to make it more confusing? There’s some evidence to support that theory too. The case remains frustratingly unsolved and now has become the inspiration for an unusual “Fargo”-esque comedy that premiered last weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival. Directed by “Mad Men” star John Slattery, “Maggie Moore(s)” shoots for Coen brothers but lands somewhere significantly blander. It’s a film with select moments, largely because of the screen chemistry of its leads, but it never coheres into anything consistent. And then the film, which was shot in late 2021, rushes to an ending that feels like the product of messy post-production.
Jay Moore (Micah Stock) is a small-town idiot running a dumb scam on his employers and customers at a sub sandwich shop. Instead of ordering the corporate-mandated supplies from the company that owns the chain, he gets expired products from a local grocery store for cheap. A higher markup means more profit, but the deal puts him in cahoots with the wrong side of the law. When he hits the skids with his wife Maggie, and she even threatens to destroy his scheme, he hires a deaf tough guy named Kosco (Happy Anderson) to scare her straight. Well, Kosco takes it too far and sets Maggie’s car on fire with her in it. As the authorities close in on Jay, he comes up with the plan to hire Kosco again to take out the other Maggie Moore (Mary Holland) in town to throw people off his scent.
Believe it or not, with the arguable exception of Jay, none of these people lead “Maggie Moore(s).” Slattery and writer Paul Bernbaum turn that role over to Chief Jordan Sanders (Jon Hamm), the cop who ends up with both cases. Working with a deputy played well by Nick Mohammed of “Ted Lasso,” Sanders connects the dots and even meets a potential girlfriend in Jay’s neighbor Rita (Tina Fey). She overheard the last Moore fight and has a very movie-convenient way of falling into things.
Overall, Slattery can’t find the right tone for this odd tale of dual victims with the same name. The true story of Mary Morris is so hard to believe that I’m not surprised that it inspired a screenwriter like Bernbaum, but one senses this final story has gone through dozens of iterations, both as a screenplay and then in production. We follow Jay through his dumb plans and Jordan as he unravels them, but none of it is enough, either as a comedy or a mystery.
Having said that, I realized while watching “Maggie Moore(s)” how much I would love to see Hamm & Mohammed solve crimes in a mystery-of-the-week show on TV. They have an easy rapport that makes the actual investigation the film’s most intriguing part—to be fair, Hamm and Fey have strong chemistry too, but the movie doesn’t have enough time to develop that into anything compelling. That’s really true of the whole production. “Maggie Moore(s)” keeps threatening to go to interesting places and then gets stuck repeating itself.
Reviewed from the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. “Maggie Moore(s)” opens on June 16th.
Maggie Moore(s) (2023)
Jon Hammas Chief Jordan Sanders
Tina Feyas Maggie Moore
Micah Stockas Jay Moore
Happy Andersonas Kosco
Christopher Denhamas Andy Moore
Allison Dunbaras Stephanie
- John Slattery
- Paul Bernbaum
Director of Photography
- W. Mott Hupfel III