A section in the end credits for “Middle Men” asserts that, although it was inspired by a true story, the film is, in fact, a work of fiction. I’ve tended to find this annoying, especially in relation to horror movies. In the case of “Middle Men,” however, the assertion fascinates me, for Christopher Mallick, the film’s producer, has claimed that much of what we see – 80%, apparently – is based on his own experiences. A former chief executive of Paycom, the Texas-born entrepreneur was a key player in bringing the adult entertainment industry to the internet, pioneering the technology that makes online purchases, especially monthly memberships to porn sites, easy and secure. In essence, he was a middle man. His efforts have paid off; according to a set of statistics published by Jerry Ropelato in 2006, the annual revenue of internet porn was nearly $3 billion in the United States alone. I have no doubt that the rate has increased since then.
As to how much of this film is true, as to what facts have been embellished or altered or altogether made up, I obviously have no way of knowing. That, of course, only makes it that much more irresistible. In the film, Mallick is reinterpreted as Jack Harris (Luke Wilson), who begins as a respectable and competent businessman, having a knack for talking and negotiating with people of every flavor, including mobsters that enjoy busting people’s kneecaps with baseball bats. Sometime between the mid to late 1990s, he becomes involved with Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht), two Los Angeles cokeheads who realized they could build an empire by scanning dirty pictures onto their computer, posting them on the internet, and selling them for $9.99. They have absolutely no business sense and are basically idiots, and never mind that Dolby was formerly a rocket scientist and has an IQ of 183.
What begins as a straight-and-narrow handling of affairs quickly escalates into something grander, Harris, Beering, and Dobly becoming wealthy entrepreneurs over the space of five years. It also becomes far more dangerous, Beering and Dolby having gotten involved with a Russian mobster (Rade Šerbedžija); he owns a strip club, you see, and they generate new content for their site by posting videos and photos of his girls. You know how it is with mobsters. They want their cut of the profits pronto. But you also know how it is with guys like Beering and Dolby. They blow off all their money on drugs. They don’t know any better, not even when their faces are smashed in or their heads are shoved into toilets.