Reviewed by: Mia J. Burruss
Starring: Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Mary McCormack, Burt Reynolds, Colm Meaney, Lolita Davidovich, Maury Chaykin, Ron Eldard, Ryan Northcott Director: M. Jay Roach | Writing credits: David E. Kelley, Sean O'Byrne
“All is fair in love and hockey,” should be the motto for the townspeople of the remote region of MYSTERY, ALASKA. Apparently when you live in a small town surrounded by snow and ice, those are your only two options for social interaction. At least, that is all that seems to be on the minds of the inhabitants of this town.
Co-written and produced by David E. Kelley (“Ally McBeal,” “The Practice”) and directed by M. Jay Roach (“Austin Powers” 1 and 2), MYSTERY, ALASKA seems like recycled humor from television’s “Northern Exposure.” Imagine “Gilligan’s Island” on ice and you could almost write the script from that.
This comedy attempts to show the unity and discord that passion for the sport of hockey brings to the people of MYSTERY. They gather religiously every weekend for what is simply called “The Saturday Game.” The Saturday Game is played by members of the town hand-picked by “the committee.” At the beginning of the game, a child hands out jerseys to each player, determining who will play against who. Team members include the town sheriff, John Biebe (Russell Crowe), who has been playing for 14 years.
One player nicknamed appropriately, Skank (Ron Eldard), admits that all he thinks about is “hockey and fornication,” in that order. Even when he is fornicating, he can’t take his eyes off of a hockey game.
The town and team get national attention after former resident, Charlie Danner (Hank Azaria, “Mystery Men”, voice of Apu on the “Simpsons”), writes an article which appears in Sports Illustrated. With national attention, the ambitious Charlie uses his new found notoriety to arrange an exhibition game between MYSTERY’s players and the NHL’s New York Rangers hockey team.
Let the kookiness begin. In the eccentric setting of this frigid retreat, the inhabitants make their own rules. The town agrees to host the NY Rangers, deplete the town’s resources in preparing for the game and justifies the irresponsible actions of the town grocer because he is the best scoring player on the team.
Burt Reynolds gives a convincing and entertaining performance as Judge Walter Burns. Mary McCormack (“Deep Impact”, “Private Parts”) who plays Donna, the sheriff’s wife, shines through the poorly crafted script as a talent worthy of noticing. Mike Myers (“Austin Powers”) gives a funny cameo performance as a former hockey player who comments on the game.
The kookiness and eccentricity of the characters does provide for a few chuckles. By the time of the big game, the characters have been endeared to the audience enough that you want them to win. The game itself is one of the highlights of the film. The bigger theme of a person from obscurity facing off with a world renown champion reminds one of David facing Goliath. Because everyone can identify with being laughed at or considered the underdog at least once in his or her life, rooting for Team Mystery is almost automatic.
In the end, hockey, just the simple sport of it, seems like a tonic or cure-all for all the town’s idiosyncrasies. The mayor and his wife’s marital problems seem to have disappeared as they both focused on the upcoming game. The sheriff and his wife receive new energy and vitality toward their marriage after playfully skating on the rink the night before the game. The stiff judge loosens up and finally says a kind word to his son after the game.
As the R rating suggests, there is a liberal usage of profanity throughout the film. The first lines of profanity are uttered by a toddler. Many of the jokes are based on sexual innuendo. Partial nudity is shown briefly in a few scenes. God’s name is often used in a profane context.