Mystery, Alaska

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OK, if you really want to make yet another sports movie in which an underdog team faces incredible odds against a far superior team, here are two things you should do:

1) Hire actors based on their acting ability, not on their athletic prowess.

2) Include some scenes of the sport in question actually being played.

If the makers of “Mystery, Alaska” had followed these two simple tips … well, the movie still would have sucked because of its trite, oversexed script and underdeveloped characters. But at least there would have been more hockey-playing.

The hockey scenes — and this is allegedly a movie about hockey — don’t come in until the final half hour. The 90 minutes before that are about this tiny team in Mystery, Alaska, who somehow get a chance to play against the New York Rangers as a publicity stunt. It’s also about the thousand or so characters who populate the film, many of them very good ice-skaters but few of them good at acting, and none of them at all compelling or real, and how the only two things that ever go on in this town are hockey and sex.

The sex, we see and hear quite a bit about. The hockey, well, that’s just a rumor in this movie, until it finally shows us a hockey game at the end, by which point we’re so sick of seeing an hour and a half of relaly boring nothingness that frankly, we’re rooting for the Rangers.

The characters, for what it’s worth, are like this: You’ve got John Biebe (Russell Crowe), a scruffy, not-handsome guy who gets booted from the local team because he’s too slow. Oh, he’s the sheriff, too, and has to arrest one of the key players (I just saw the movie two hours ago, and I already forgot which one, because they all look the same) for shooting an out-of-town big-shot (Michael McKean) in the foot. (McKean’s expletive-laden outbursts provide approximately the only laughs in the movie.) The gun-happy player gets acquitted by a jury of his hockey-loving peers, though, in order for him to be able to play the game. Hurrah for team spirit and small-town mockeries of justice!

This doesn’t sit well with Judge Walter Burns (Burt Reynolds, looking like Gregory Peck), who seems to command respect all over town even though he himself can’t play hockey and his own son Birdie (Scott Grimes) ain’t so hot, either.

Oh, and there’s an unnecessary sex scene between teen-age Stevie Weeks (Ryan Northcott) and the judge’s daughter (Rachel Wilson), as well as lots of ensuing references to the disastrous nature of said encounter. Plus, hockey player Skank Marden (Ron Eldard) is having sex with pretty much every woman in town, married or not, and I think we’re supposed to care when the mayor (Colm Meaney) finds out his wife is one of them, but they don’t spend a whole lot of time on it and you kind of forget about it by the end, when Skank is hitting on some other woman instead.

And then there’s a hockey game that someone wins, and there’s lots of cliches, and it’s all like every sports movie we’ve ever seen, except more sexual, less interesting, and with practically no sports.

Did I mention the bizarre cameos by Mike Myers and Little Richard? Probably just as well.

This is a hackish character drama with no characters, and a dull sports movie with no sports.

D (; R, language and sexuality.)

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