Volume 93, Issue 21

Tuesday, October 5, 1999


Modern day triumph

No Mystery to movie's melodramatic success

Rezervation Road a riveting trip

Cockburn and Misfits come up big

No Mystery to movie's melodramatic success

Photo by Rob McEwan
PLEASE BURT, TELL US MORE ABOUT "THE BANDIT." Burt Reynolds stars alongside an effective ensemble cast in Mystery, Alaska.

Mystery, Alaska
Starring: Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Burt Reynolds
Director: Jay Roach

By Chad Finkelstein
Gazette Writer

There's something about melodrama.

When it doesn't work, it evokes groans and raucous intolerance from impatient audiences. However, when it does work, no movie can parallel the collective satisfaction of a crowd invariably drawn into a sappy world where the most unrealistic scenarios don't even register as such.

Thankfully, this tool of cinematic uncertainty functions effectively in Mystery, Alaska, a triumph-of-the-human-spirit tale. Revolving around the charming notion that hockey can be a religion, the townsfolk of Mystery have prided themselves in their athletic abilities on ice, claiming their citizens were born with skates on.

This is typified by the ritualistic "Saturday game," the supposed be-all-end-all of Alaskan competition, where the townsfolk have created their own microcosm league, complete with drafting and requisite intensity.

Mystery finally gets its due, however, when a profile in Sports Illustrated ignites a flurry of attention which these people have never known. A former Myster-ian, orchestrates a theatrical publicity stunt which brings the National Hockey League's New York Rangers to his quaint home town.

This tests the mettle of his Alaskan brethren in a showdown which will not only try the players' limits but also those of the town. After weighing the pros and cons, the Mysterians make the decision to laugh in the face of adversity and then skate all over it.

Unfairly dubbed the "Mystery Eskimos" by event organizers, the team begins to take form and train for the biggest game they'll ever play. Led by captain Johnny Beibe (Russell Crowe), the self-proclaimed franchise includes all of the conventional characters of a male, rag-tag, ensemble cast.

There's the irresponsible, horny cartoon, the giant with an enormous heart, the meeker player with his own inner conflict and the rookie who needs to earn his respect. However, they're all lovable and charismatic actors who are interesting to watch on screen. Add the town's judge (Burt Reynolds) as coach and the Eskimos are primed to kick some ice.

It is not hyperbolic to say that Mystery, Alaska is one of the best movies this year. With a seamless transition from a genuine comedy to a truly gripping drama, it incorporates all of the best emotions which comprise a good film.

Each actor hones an original character out of the unique script from David E. Kelley, most notably Ron Eldard as a testosterone-driven jock. Surprisingly, even Burt Reynolds, sporting a complicated facial hair pattern, delivers a bearable performance as the tough coach and beacon of morality.

Also, in the tradition of classic sports movies, there's some incredible hockey. Impressive skating techniques, unheard of passing styles and some show stopping goals hold the competitive scenes together and make the action exciting, even for those who can't stand the sport.

Mystery, Alaska is also continuously aided by a bold soundtrack which heightens the moments of triumph to their fullest capacity. The audience is captured and happily obligated to share in the pain and the joy, the glory, the loss, the humour and the tragedy which the heroes pass through.

There's no suspense to the secret of Mystery's success – this melodrama at its finest.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999