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Mystery, Alaska

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Mystery, Alaska

Starring: Russell Crowe, Mary McCormack
Director: Jay Roach
Rated: R
RunTime: 119 Minutes
Release Date: October 1999
Genre: Comedy

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

The good folk of Mystery, a small town in Alaska, live and breathe little else but ice hockey. The Saturday afternoon games on the local pond are a social highlight, and the men guard their positions in the team jealously. But after an article on this hick town team appears in the prestigious Sports Illustrated, they are offered a one-off opportunity to play an exhibition match against the New York Rangers.

The deal is the brainchild of celebrated sports journalist Charles Danner (Hank Azaria), who grew up in Mystery before seeking greener pastures. Most of the town rally around the team, with the exception of the crusty old judge (Burt Reynolds), who urges that Mystery cling to both its dignity and its illusions.

But as the match draws closer, tensions within the town simmer. The match represents something of a personal mission for John Biebe (Russell Crowe), the town's sheriff, who has just been dumped off the team after thirteen years. The town's mayor (Colm Meaney, from Con Air, etc) discovers that his wife (Lolita Davidovich) is having an affair with Shank (Ron Eldard), a member of the team, while Biebe becomes jealous of the former relationship that existed between his wife (Mary McCormack) and Danner.

Mystery's brief flirtation with fame also brings with it a number of problems, not the least of which is a sudden influx of money and interest from big corporations that threaten the harmony of this small town. Can the team pull off an unlikely fairy tale win against the best and most professional team in the business, or will defeat rip the heart out of this tight knit community? Mystery, Alaska is a classic tale about an underdog that eventually has its day, but this leisurely paced comedy takes its own sweet time about getting to the climactic hockey match. Director Jay Roach (the two Austin Powers comedies) and television writer David E Kelley paint a wonderful portrait of this small town, bringing to life its charming, laid back lifestyle and colourful gallery of eccentric inhabitants. At times, it seems a little like a nice off spin from the quirky Northern Exposure series.

Roach has assembled a strong cast to bring the delightful residents of Mystery to life, and he has also coaxed a brief appearance from his Austin Powers star Mike Myers, who plays a vitriolic tv sports commentator.

As a film dealing with the fast but often violent sport of ice hockey, Mystery, Alaska is better than Disney's increasingly tiresome Mighty Ducks series, but somehow not as much fun as the ribald, raunchy comedy Slap Shot. Instead, this is another of those endearing comedies that explore the rich textures of life in small town America, and its quirky charms should win over most audiences.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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