In retrospect, I could have written about Mystery, Alaska as one of my many Guilty Pleasures. The thing is, I never thought of this outrageous 1999 comedy, with a cast of solid actors and a load of memorable lines, as a film that I had to feel guilty about throwing in the Blu-Ray player. Then, while doing some research, I discovered that it received a bunch of reviews ranging from “mixed” to “awful,” and that it bombed big-time at the box office. Who knew? But then again, who cared? I’ll be watching it once a year until the Writers’ Afterward summons.
I love feel-good sports movies in general, and this ice hockey story fits the bill. Russell Crowe plays John Biebe, sheriff of the eternally frozen Alaska town of Mystery, where the populace lives for its “Saturday Game,” a four-on-four pond hockey match, basically a public scrimmage. As one player, town stud Skank Marden says, “I play hockey and I fornicate, ’cause those are the two most fun things to do in cold weather.”
A mainstay in the game for many years, Biebe is about to be replaced by a talented high school kid, so decree the town fathers. As he deals with this, two major changes loom over the little isolated town. First, a big box chain is considering Mystery for one of its stores. When a representative comes to town and stops by the grocery store, he is shot in the foot by one of the hockey-playing clerks.
The sheriff asks the rep if he’s okay. His reply: “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!”
The second major change is the result of a Sports Illustrated article about Mystery’s hockey players, written by Charlie Danner (Hank Azaria), who left the town years earlier for the big time. Now he returns with a promise of a televised Christmas week hockey match between the town’s amateurs and the New York Rangers. He also still has the hots for Biebe’s girl-next-door wife, Donna (Mary McCormack), whom he dated in high school. Against opposition from the town’s most prominent citizen, Judge Burns (Burt Reynolds), the residents vote to allow the game.
So now things move forward in earnest as a real hockey rink is built for the game. The town even gets a Zamboni, the tractor-like conveyance that’s used to smooth out the ice between periods. The town’s mayor gives wholesome Donna the big news, and in what is arguably my favorite line in the film, she replies, “A Zamboni! I’m gettin’ wet just thinkin’ about it!”
Soon the media arrives in the form of a TV reporter. While interviewing Skank Marden outdoors she tells her cameraman to stop shooting; seems her fingers are frozen. The helpful Skank says, “You need to rub ’em on a nice, warm Yuletide log.” When she asks for clarification he says, “Look, Christmas is a lonely day for a guy to be chokin’ his own chicken. And as women reporters go, I find you supple.”
There are subplots, of course, as the story moves forward. Skank has an affair with the bored wife of Mystery’s mayor; for a short time the Rangers refuse to participate in the game; and we have a teen romance between Stevie, the town’s new star player, and the daughter of uptight Judge Burns. (Stevie is knocked unconscious at a practice and brought back with smelling salts, at which point he blurts out, “I’m a premature ejaculator!”)
But the game is the thing, and it finally gets off in all of its overhyped ESPN glory. Though not before the mayor conspires with Little Richard—yes, the Little Richard—to sing the American and Canadian national anthems in slow motion in order to literally freeze the Rangers, the game time temperature being below zero. Judge Burns has agreed to coach the team, and
he reinstates Sheriff Biebe as a player. (The TV reporter roams the stands interviewing locals. She asks Biebe’s little boy if he sees his daddy out on the ice. He replies, “I have a toy pony. He takes big shits.”)
For the first period the men of Mystery stun their town, the Rangers, and even themselves with their brilliant play in this David vs. Goliath scenario. The thing is, there are three periods in a hockey game, and so…
Okay, no spoiler alert here, in case you’ve never seen the film and have been so inspired by this write-up. I will only say one thing: the ending won’t be what you would automatically assume. This two-hour comedy has its share of poignant moments to break up the raunchiness, which—for me—makes it even more fun to watch. Enjoy!