Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

With a cast that includes Tina Fey and Jon Hamm, hopes were high for interesting title Maggie Moore(s) to hit the mark. Mad Men’s John Slattery takes on directing duties in a script from Paul Bernbaum (Halloweentown, Rent-a-Kid)—neither are strangers to crafting quirky characters or balancing darker tones. Sometimes a cozy darkly comedic crime-drama hits the exact right notes to help make a memorable festival entry that much sweeter.

Police chief Jordan Sanders (Hamm) has not been this baffled by a case in a long time. Two women, both with the name Maggie Moore, have turned up dead only one week apart. One would have been weird enough in their quiet desert town, but two? That simply has to mean something, and Sanders is devoted to resolving this puzzling curiosity. During sleuthing with his partner (Nick Mohammed), the neighbor of one of the Maggies, a self-deprecating casino worker named Rita (Fey), appears to have many valuable insights about the case that could prove vital. Jordan opens up to Rita quite a bit—a writer on the side since high school, Jordan’s untapped potential has sort of trapped him in his job. The two go on ice cream dates together as they begin to define what their relationship means, while the mystery looms overhead.

At the same time, the husband of one of the Maggies, Jay (Micah Stock), has been running his Castle Subs store the cheapest way possible: smuggling in expired product and selling it to save money. The price is that he must deliver packages containing child pornography to various parties. When Jay’s wife, Maggie, discovers a box that he was supposed to later deliver, she flips out, suspecting they are his. She promptly kicks Jay to the curb in her disgust. In an effort to cover his tracks, Jay goes to deaf Kosco (Happy Anderson) to ask him to scare Maggie so she will relinquish the package for his bootleg operation to continue. Needless to say, Jay hits more than a few snags along the way.

The opening tells us “some of this actually happened,” which is a new and quite comical way of nudging the audience. Obviously I have no clue how much of this is based on a true story, but it is definitely more grounded than one would expect. Zig-zagging through timeframes in a curious manner, Maggie Moore(s) does not always make narratively smart decisions. More than a couple times I felt a little confused by the manner in which they chose to present information that did not need to be withheld, or the way sequences are framed. In the same breath, the film features one of my favorite bits of foreshadowing I have seen so far this year involving car work that solidly justifies the rougher edges of this witty script.

Previously, Hamm and Fey starred together in NBC’s 30 Rock, and the duo will also co-star in the upcoming Mean Girls musical. Their onscreen chemistry has clearly been built over the years. Seeing the two act together is seamless—an essential part of what makes Maggie Moore(s) work as well as it does. Supporting cast also help the world to feel lived in; in a small supporting role, Bobbi Kitten steals scenes as “attention whore” Cassie. Despite a few bumps along the way, John Slattery’s film is fun and engaging. Maggie Moore(s) meets the exact expectation of a comedic crime drama that I was hoping for—great performances from the cast, a unique concept, and even a reference to 1985’s Clue.

Maggie Moore(s) screened at 2023’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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