Mystery, Alaska

Directed by Jay Roach
Starring: Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Mary McCormack, Ron Eldard, Burt Reynolds.
MPAA Rating: R for language and sexuality.

Review by Matt Heffernan
October 1, 1999

David E. Kelley has had tremendous success in television. He recently won Best Series Emmys for his shows "The Practice" and "Ally McBeal". Yet, for some reason, he failed miserably with his first original screenplay: Lake Placid. Now he gives it a second go with Disney, who apparently wanted to make an adult version of The Mighty Ducks.

The small town of Mystery, Alaska has a local hockey team that plays every Saturday. The ten-man team splits up, and the town cheers both sides on. Charlie Danner (Hank Azaria), has left Mystery to be writer. He does a story on his hometown's team for Sports Illustrated, which gets national attention. He returns to Mystery to announce that the New York Rangers are coming to play the local guys in a nationally televised game.

John Biebe (Russell Crowe), the local sheriff, was cut from the team just prior to the announcement. Judge Burns (Burt Reynolds) is the usual coach, but he thinks that the potential for embarrasment is too great. The town's mayor (Colm Meaney) calls upon John to replace him. Now John has to lead a bunch of regular guys against a professional team, even at the cost of dignity.

I've heard one critic refer to this film as "the Rocky of hockey!" The ironic thing is, Kelley has a long way to go before he can write a screenplay as good as Sylvester Stallone's. He shows a small amount of improvement from his previous film, but the script still lacks any real insight or originality. It's just another trite sports movie that pretends to have a heart.

This was the first non-Austin Powers film directed by Jay Roach. Here he tries to deal with a very large cast, with too many stories, and it's just too much. He should have cut a lot of fat out of the screenplay, and kept the film to reasonable length. The longer it goes on, the more you realize that it was just a waste of time.

With the new TV season starting, I again notice that some of my favorite shows are really much better that most feature films. Kelley's shows are quite exceptional, and certainly deserved those Emmy's. I think it would be best is he concentrated on his forté, and forget about screenwriting. Besides, he still gets to go home to Michelle Pfeiffer.

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Mystery, Alaska (1999)

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan