The Crushed Film Festival presents: Mystery, Alaska
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.
Tags: Adam Beach barfing Burt Reynolds Cameron Bancroft Colm Meaney David E. Kelley Dylan Baker famous boyfriends Hank Azaria Jay Roach Judith Ivey Kevin Durand Law & Order: SVU Little Richard Lolita Davidovich Mary McCormack Maury Chaykin Michael Buie Michael McKean Mike Myers movies Mystery Alaska Ron Eldard Russell Crowe Ryan Northcott Scott Grimes The Crushed Film Festival