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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Crushed Film Festival presents: Mystery, Alaska

Submitted by on June 29, 2011 – 7:50 PM13 Comments

I hate this hat so much I could CRY

The Movie: Mystery, Alaska

The Crush Object: Ron Eldard

The Story: Co-written by David E. Kelley and directed by Jay Roach (Meet the Parents), Mystery, Alaska opens on the town awaiting the arrival of a Sports Illustrated article about their hockey team and its famous Saturday Game.

The team, you see, features the best players in town, selected by the town fathers, and plays an intrasquad game on a frozen pond every Saturday. The SI piece is written by hometown-boy-gone-city-trash Chuck Danner (Hank Azaria), and his account of how the forbidding conditions create great stickmen in a smithy of ice sparks interest from the New York Rangers in an exhibition game. Well, interest from the networks; the NHL starters aren't too psyched to huck it to East Asscrack, AK on their only off days that month and risk injury against a bunch of amateurs. So, naturally there's a court case versus the players' union in which beloved town attorney (and also town drunk) Bailey Pruitt (Maury Chaykin) has to punctuate an impassioned argument to a New York City judge with a fatal heart attack that inspires the townies to kick ass.

But whether the townies can kick ass remains a question. The town fathers, in their infinite wisdom, have decided that skating prodigy Stevie Weeks (Ryan Northcott, whose resemblance to Dylan Baker is rather unwelcome given the premature-ejaculation scene in which he figures) is ready to rise (hew) to the ranks of the Saturday Game. But the roster is fixed: adding a player means subtracting one as well. The player told to step down is Sheriff John Biebe (Russell Crowe, sporting very shiny long hair), who's getting kind of old and fat and who's also pretty busy with his day job, which includes arresting the town's best scorer, Connor Banks (Michael Buie), on assault charges when he accidentally shoots a dicky Price World rep (Michael McKean) in the foot; not arresting one of the many paramours of Skank Marden (Eldard) when she hits him in the head with a shovel for comparing her to a walrus in the sack; pulling Danner over for Zamboni DUI, and so on.

When it's clear the Ranger exhibition is actually happening, mayor of Mystery Scott Pitcher (Colm Meaney) begs Biebe to coach; Biebe in turn begs Judge Walter Burns (Burt Reynolds, and yes, literally everyone is in this movie) to coach, since Burns 1) played II-A hockey in college, 2) has a son on the team he needs to bond with (Scott Grimes) (…everyone), and 3) is Burt Reynolds.

That means Biebe is back on the ice as team captain, when he's not fighting needlessly with his wife (Mary McCormack) (EVERYONE) over the relationship she had with Danner back in high school, or trying to get his kids to stop cursing. (The first line of dialogue in the film is a round-faced 6-year-old observing "fuck ME" when Biebe's car won't start. Heh.) Can his steady leadership, Weeks's lightning-fast skating, Banks's shooting, and Marden's willingness to take a slap shot to the seeds carry them to victory?

Spoiler: No. The Mysterians make a horse race out of it, but lose by a single point. The viewer, meanwhile, comes out ahead; the story is formulaic, but formulae become formulae for a reason, and this one is well-acted and good-natured, with a big handful of sweet and/or funny moments. Skank's apology to Colm Meaney doesn't feel organic to the character, but it's touching — "when I get too old for the Saturday Game I'll probably end up a drunk, like my dad" — and delivered unsentimentally. Half an hour later, the camera pans past a sign in the stands that reads, "Hey Skank I'm Pregnant!" Reynolds is good as a hard-ass, and he and Judith Ivey make a believable couple and parents of young adults. And kudos to the prop department, which steals the Most Realistic Vomit Loogey championship cup from Barton Fink when a nervous Weeks hurls into his skates.

Worth the price of admission by itself: McKean's cursey ranting as Mr. Walsh. Sitting on a gurney after the bullet barely grazes his foot, Walsh delivers the following aria of bigshot rage: "No, I'm not okay! Do I look okay? The fucker shot me! What the fuck-ass fuck of a bum-fuck shithole town is this? I make a business call. I give him my card. And the hick-ass fucker shoots my foot off! Cock-fucking shit!" Ringtone!

The Backstory: One of the many forgettable-or-worse flicks I've sat through for Eldie, MA is not worth it on that level; his hair is weird, and he's either bundled up beyond all recognition or having stagey sex with Lolita Davidovich while watching a hockey game over her bare shoulder. As…you do.

But when I said everyone is in this movie, I meant it, so no doubt you can find yourself a cutie to enjoy; the cast also includes one of the crazy chainsaw-juggling brothers from Smokin' Aces (Kevin Durand), Chester from SVU (Adam Beach), Donna's quarterback-virgin boyfriend from 90210: College (Cameron Bancroft), Mike Myers as a hockey commentator, and Little Richard singing both national anthems as himself. Okay, Little Richard is more of "a creepie," but he's wearing a very pretty headband in that scene in his tour bus.

The Embarrassment Level: It's not historic cinema, but it's a rare portrayal of a unique small town that keeps it on the right side of twee and loves its characters enough to tease them. The writing/directing pedigree might give you pause, but it's quite restrained work from both Kelley and Roach. One and a half for the fact that the Eldard's character's name is Skank.

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13 Comments »

  • Adrienne says:

    Two things:
    1. This film was recently featured in an ep of the Doug Loves Movies podcast and I totally called it given Mike Myers and Little Richard as cast members.
    2. "Hamlet on ice it's not." …hee!

  • Jenn says:

    "It's a HOCKEY movie homes!"

  • Allison says:

    The reason I watched this movie: Adam Beach.

    Adam Beach, who had very little screen time and the hair of a drowned rat to boot. I think your reasons trump mine.

    But! Whenever I think of this movie I always hear Wing's voice in my head saying: That's always my favorite flavor of celebrity defensiveness. "You just didn't get it." I think he actually said that about Mystery, Alaska.

    And of course the, "Dude throws phones at people, is what I am just saying."

    Man, I miss the GBC. You should totally start doing those again.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    "You don't have a phone in the kitchen?" Totally forgot that interchange.

  • Kizz says:

    It probably only holds up because it really does have EVERYONE in it. Could anyone but McCormack not have just burst out giggling with the coded up Ann Landers article bit? But she pulls it off. Anyone but Azaria makes that role some dweeby asshole but with him you still kind of see what McCormack saw in him. Also, some dude is forced to slide bare assed on the ice into a snowbank in the name of justice. I can't help it. I love this movie.

  • attica says:

    Okay, so I just watched the Crowe Robin Hood on the tv machine, and who are two co-stars? Kevin Durand and Scott Grimes! I'd completely forgotten they'd been in M,A, so reading it here made a little bell go off in my head.

    I remember seeing this movie back in my RC-Crushed Film Festival days (please don't judge me until you've seen Romper Stomper), and I don't remember, but I think this was one of McCormack's pre-trout-lip roles. Do correct me if I'm wrong.

    I totally agree that this movie is almost bad, but just barely stays on the not-bad side of the blue line. I wish Maury Chaykin was less oily, but I always wish that, and am never rewarded. (Now he's gone on to his reward – RIP!- I never shall be.)

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Could anyone but McCormack not have just burst out giggling with the coded up Ann Landers article bit?

    That was painful — what is he, 14? — but it was sort of an interesting contrast with Skank's little speech. One of film's fundamental problems is how to tell stories about people who wouldn't tell stories about themselves (Exhibit A: Brokeback Mountain), and how to get articulate insights into the mouths of (usually) men who would not think about or talk about themselves in this way. So, when Skank is talking about how he skates and fucks because they're the funnest things to do, and when he can't skate anymore he'll have to switch to drinking, that's dead-on for that character…except the part where he's the one saying it. (Well, maybe not. He's a teacher.)

    Compare that with Biebe trying to tell his wife what she means to him…everything, basically. And this is how that man, that kind of man, would try to get that done. We just don't usually see that in movies because it's awkward and not narratively neat, but this is the reality of communication for most people.

    But it was still cringey.

  • kategm says:

    Clearly Sars, you just didn't get it :)

  • JennyA says:

    God, I love this movie. My ex-husband and I still occasionally call each other up specifically to say things like "What the fuck-ass fuck of a bumfuck, shit-hole town is this?!" and "Really, Scott? My own jimmy?" and "Brrrr! Witch-tit cold!"

    Don't forget Beth Brotherton ("My nose hairs are frozen.") as the clueless reporter sent to cover the big game. Everyone!

    Basically, everything you've said. But I'll always love this movie — it's like chicken soup — I never watch it unless I'm home sick and want something familiar and comfortable and warming and a little bit silly.

  • Jenn says:

    Also, L. Scott Caldwell from Lost and The Fugitive! Everyone, indeed.

  • JenW says:

    Ron Eldard was recently on an episode of In Plain Sight called _Meet the Shannons_. Did you sit through Ghost Ship for R.E.? Even though it had Julianna Margulies in it, too, I still haven't found the courage/level of boredom.

  • kategm says:

    I will admit, I would see this movie just because I like the title.

  • Sandman says:

    I have great affection for this movie, partly because of the "… wait, him too?" quality. Everyone really is in this one. And I like the way you described the best thing about it, that the movie has enough affection for its characters to tease them. On the other hand, I think I could have done without Mike Meyers' turn as the greasy big city commentator guy. I cannot un-hear that guy asking where in town he can get "a rub an' a tug." (Sorry.)

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