Movie Review By Heather Clisby
When my producer assigned me "Mystery, Alaska" a hockey film, I wickedly thought to myself, 'Ooo, a sports flick, always good for a rant.' But when I saw David E. Kelley's name as co-writer and co-producer, I'll admit, I sat up in my chair. One of the only genuinely talented people working in television today, his name is a mark of true craftsmanship.
Directed by Jay Roach, this David & Goliath formula pits the small-town boys (Team Mystery) up against giants of the game, the New York Rangers by way of a fluky PR stunt.
One of the best actors of the day, Russell Crowe, stars as John Biebe, the long-haired, beefed-up town sheriff who has played on the team for 13 years, a town record. When the Council - a group of town elders that determine team members - asks him to step down, he goes into a self-pity funk that threatens his marriage.
Hank Azaria (talk about versatile) is Charles Danner, the boy who "skates like a homosexual" returns to his hometown of Mystery with chip planted firmly on shoulder. He's made it big in New York City as a writer for Sports Illustrated and he is the catalyst for the Rangers visit. Of course, the match is not for money or for a title, it is for the love of the game and, ultimately, Charlie's pride. A natural rivalry is re-visited as we realize that John's lovely wife, Donna, played by Mary McCormack, is also Charlie's high school sweetheart.
Burt Reynolds (looking so distinguished these days he looks out of place here) is Judge Walter Burns, a man who nearly went pro in college yet is forever reminded that he never made the Mystery Team. Naturally, he now tortures his son, Birdie, who plays on the team. Father/son angst, it's all good.
Naturally, my favorite scene in the movie is not about hockey but sex. When virginal Marla (played by Rachel Wilson) attempts to seduce her na´ve boyfriend, Stevie (the newest member of the team), things happen so quickly, your heart just bleeds for the couple so full of love and misdirection. Ryan Northcott is Stevie and he is just precious.
I'm not a big hockey fan but this movie has a lot of real heart. I was dreading the cymbal crashes at the big game and sure enough, they came, but "Mystery, Alaska" reached farther. The film is about a town that's like a family and their unified passion for a game; it carries the mark of a project where all involved cared deeply about it. Better yet, there's so many story threads going, hockey is merely a backdrop. Nevertheless, bring a jacket.
© 1999 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 10/6/99
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