Hockey meets hokey in `Mystery, Alaska'

October 01, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Think of "Rocky" on ice skates.

That's what you get with "Mystery, Alaska," one of those hard-to-resist little guys-vs.-the world sports tales in which success isn't nearly as important as survival. Here, it's a ragtag bunch of Alaskan hockey players going up against the NHL's mighty New York Rangers.

Created by prolific TV producer-director David E. Kelley ("Ally McBeal," "The Practice," "Chicago Hope," etc.), it's filled with his trademark touches: near-absurd situations, characters jumping from one inner crisis to the next, and a sometimes uneasy mix of humor and pathos.

Kelley peoples his script with all sorts of idiosyncratic characters, including Ron Eldard as a womanizing goof and Burt Reynolds as the town judge and resident autocrat.

The film's center is town sheriff John Biebe (nicely underplayed by Russell Crowe), who doubles as the much-beloved, if a little long-in-the-tooth, captain of the hockey team. But the real star is Mystery itself.

It may not be much of a town, but it sure loves its hockey -- there isn't a lunch table within a 10-mile radius where hockey isn't the dominant topic of discussion.

Town pride is inextricably linked with the team, especially with the consensus that their boys are as good as any team ever put on ice.

That overblown bravado is put to the test when a local boy-turned-sportswriter (Hank Azaria) writes a Sports Illustrated article about Mystery.

The NHL powers-that-be decide to call the town's bluff and send the Rangers north for an exhibition.

Director Jay Roach (the "Austin Powers" films) sets a fairly plodding pace for much of the film, although things pick up once the bad boys from New York arrive.

The film is unwaveringly predictable, a contrived subplot concerning a grocery chain's move to the area feels tacked-on, and the idea that an NHL exhibition would be a TV-ratings blockbuster, which is the whole reason the game happens in the first place, is more than a little farfetched.

Still, the movie is an enjoyable confection that should appeal to those who enjoy rooting for the underdog.

Hey, it worked for "Rocky."

`Mystery, Alaska'

Starring Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Mary McCormack and Burt Reynolds

Directed by Jay Roach

Rated R (Language, sexual situations)

Running time 118 minutes

Released by Hollywood Pictures

Sun score **1/2

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