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MYSTERY, ALASKA

SYNOPSIS:
The isolated Alaskan town of Mystery isn't remarkable for much except the proud tradition of its weekly ice hockey game and the high calibre of players it produces. Not long after the town fathers inform stalwart player and local sheriff, John Biebe (Russell Crowe), that he's to make way for talented youngster Stevie Weekes (Ryann Northcott), news arrives of a plan to stage a televised exhibition game between Mystery and the New York Rangers. Led by the ambitious Mayor (Colm Meaney), the town's residents endorse the idea and frenzied preparations commence, opening old wounds and revealing secrets in the process.

"Ice hockey isn't so much a sport in Mystery, Alaska, but a ritual celebration. The whole town is involved – from the mayor and the sheriff to the town lawyer and the judge. And when Russell Crowe roars 'Is anyone f***ing tired' at half time in the dressing room, I challenge anyone watching to feel in the least bit tired. Just as Fever Pitch and The Cup infected us with the passion that goes with the sport, Mystery, Alaska takes us into the wintry town, and makes us care for its people. It has all the elements of a well written, engaging film: it's funny, quirky, poignant and moving. There's a lovely moment when Crowe describes how the town lawyer became overweight. 'Every time he met a nice person in Mystery, his heart grew; he met so many nice people, his body had to expand.' I know exactly what he meant. There are so many genuinely nice characters in this film – forthright characters, whose no-nonsense approach, give us faith in mankind – that we feel enriched. And not in a schmaltzy way. Crowe gives a terrific performance; he heads a great cast and there are wonderful performances from Burt Reynolds, Hank Azaria plus a couple of special cameos that will make you chuckle. The winter white settings are gorgeous, while Carter Burwell's rousing score takes us emotionally to the white peaks' heights. We are told that there are two fun things to do to keep warm in cold weather – ice hockey and fornication. They're not as far apart as you might imagine, and you'll hear more innovative propositions than you've heard for a while. The snow may be cold, but the emotions are warm; Mystery, Alaska is a worthwhile destination."
Louise Keller

"Like Happy, Texas, the title is the place: and the place is smalltown America. The precision of the culture is part of its attraction, because we see characters in their true context. Australian film makers are forever encouraged to do this, so we shouldn't deny its value in films from other countries - even America. The best form of storytelling is glued to its social and cultural origins - like Rashomon, for instance. Or Romper Stomper. Mystery is in Alaska, all-right, with its wintry weather making it what it is. Ice hockey is the game, and as the locals have bugger all else to do (except fornicate, as one of them explains frankly), hockey is rather important. Through the game, kids learn all sorts of things, as through any game, and so do adults. But where this film wins its audience is not in any of this sort of preachin' but in its attention to character detail and attention to a good story. While it pays its dues to the genre of sporting underdogs battling giants of the game and coming up with a score that's going to ensure dignity if nothing else, Mystery, Alaska does so without being a slave to that genre. It grows a horn here, a blister there, and takes a turn occasionally for the dramatic, as it sketches some of the lives that surround the central action. Performances are second in importance only to writing in this sort of film, and Russell Crowe leads a fine group of actors to victory in what otherwise might have been sloppy and schmaltzy. Not that schmaltz is totally absent, but there is enough snow and ice and hockey action to cover up what there is. Entertainingly engaging, Mystery, Alaska has enough humour, drama, sporting action and romantic excursions to satisfy even the most mismatched couple."
Andrew L. Urban

"Mystery, Alaska belongs to the particularly American film tradition which proposes that what is wrong can be set right on the sporting field. Whether it's Rocky Balboa punching his way out of the ghetto or Jamaican bobsledders carrying the nations pride in Cool Runnings the principle is the same and we know before entering the cinema the film will climax with the big game/race/fight etc. This entry in the genre has a number of elements which lift it out of the ordinary even it follows a fairly predictable path. The screenplay by David E. Kelley and Sean O'Byrne brisltes with a large number of neatly written characters whose inter-relationships capture the flavour of a little town excited and scared by the prospect of being the latest novelty item exploited by conglomerate media which is also comes in for some well deserved critical swipes. Director Jay Roach made his name with the Austin Powers films and proves he's more than a laugh getter by eliciting fine performances from a cast including a solid Russell Crowe, a wonderful Burt Reynolds (talk about career revival!) as the straight talking Judge, Colm Meaney as the Mayor seduced by the hype and Lolita Davidovich as his unfaithful wife. He also knows how to shoot an ice-hockey game and even non-sports buffs will find these sequences exciting. In the end it winds up as you'd expect and the slightly overlong path it travels is an engaging one."
Richard Kuipers

"Imagine Northern Exposure with an ice hockey team at the centre of its world. Certainly a difficult mix to envisage, and even more difficult to realise as the makers of this film have demonstrated. It's a film that isn't sure what it wants to be. Is it a quirky comedy? Rocky on ice? Field of Dreams on skates? Hard to say. Perhaps the reason for the confusion is the vastly different backgrounds of the film's key creative personnel. Director Jay Roach's last couple of outings were the Austin Powers movies. The script has been written by David E. Kelley, best known for creating such television programs as The Practice and Ally McBeal. It seems these two were unable to settle on a coherent through line. Certainly there are some very funny moments and equally poignant ones. But somehow the two streams don't pull together for the good of the whole. Equally strange is the casting. Russell Crowe plays John Biebe, basically the traditional Aussie bloke with a Canadian accent (he skates well), who drives the team through the expected adversity. Then there's Burt Reynolds playing the 90s version of Burt Reynolds, this time the antagonist within the town. Hank Azaria and Mary McCormack play their usual nice characters, this time caught on the outside of the team culture. It's in these two characters, McCormack as Crowe's wife and Azaria as the local boy who couldn't play the game, that the film could have really worked. It seems it may have started out as an exploration of what it is to be on the outside but then lost it's way in a maze of different genres."
Lee Gough

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

TRAILER

MYSTERY, ALASKA (M 15+)
(US)

CAST: Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Mary McCormack, Burt Reynolds, Colm Meaney, Lolita Davidovich

DIRECTOR: M. Jay Roach

PRODUCER: Howard Baldwin, David E. Kelley

SCRIPT: David E. Kelley & Sean O’Byrne

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Deming

EDITOR: Jon Poll

MUSIC: Carter Burwell

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rusty Smith

RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: March 16, 2000

VIDEO RELEASE: November 15, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista Home Entertainment







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