Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Mystery, Alaska.”
The Movie: “Mystery, Alaska”
Starring: Russell Crowe, Burt Reynolds, Hank Azaria
Director: Jay Roach
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) This comedy is about the residents of a small town who get overly excited when their hockey team gets chosen to host a televised event.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 38 percent
Brown: Sports Month is back on the JOE-DOWN: A tradition unlike any other.
*Receives a cease-and-desist from The Masters*
Anyways, it’s July and that means it’s time to revisit the genre of movies that overexposes everyone to cliches like: The montage, the slow clap and over-the-top action scenes that would NEVER be seen in any actual sporting event. Really, sports movies are as cliche as the things that happened in last week’s action movie parody, “Last Action Hero.”
And to kick things off… err, to drop the puck on Sports Month, we are going with a JOE-DOWN favorite.
Aside from having our favorite New Zealander, “Mystery, Alaska” features two things that Froemming loathes: Hockey and frigid weather. Also, Burt Reynolds is here and I highly doubt the man had ever seen a hockey puck in his life. RIP, Bandit.
So I remember seeing this movie while visiting family in California as a teenager. I didn’t remember it as anything special but I do recall having some fun with it. Now as a man on the verge of 33… well, we’ll get into that.
While I skate the river, give us your first take, Froemming.
Froemming: Did someone say Burt Reynolds…
YEEEEHAAAAAWWW….Wait, no, this is still not “Smokey & The Bandit.” Damnit.
Now there were a few things going into this one that upset me. One, I just moved and have no internet, so I had to buy the (REDACTED) DVD of this, which I am going to mail to Brown tomorrow caked in fake blood.
Brown: Hey man, every new apartment needs coasters.
Froemming: Two, one of the review blurbs on the DVD cover calls it “The Rocky of hockey movies,” which is a damn lie. This isn’t even the “D3: The Mighty Ducks” of hockey movies.
Three, when I finally got around to watching it, I was dead tired from moving and work, and the fact this movie is as exciting as paint drying on a North Dakota plain made the experience even worse.
Wow, I came in hot there with rage at this stupid film. Brown, while I ponder why you decided to go through the filmography of Hank Azaria this year, why don’t you kick this off.
Brown: Let’s get this out of the way: There’s no way that Russell Crowe knew how to skate before this movie. Hell, I don’t know if he even skated in this movie.
Anyway, we get a bit aerial shot of the Alaskan wilderness as our big money shot to open the movie. This fictional town of Mystery, Alaska is pretty much how I think the rest of the world views Minnesota. Not that they’re entirely wrong or anything.
And the actual first line of this movie is a child saying “(REDACTED) me.”
Yep, you know we’re in for a good one.
PLUS, the child says he learned that from locker room talk.
Kid, we learned in 2016 that THIS is locker room talk.
And we get more locker room talk akin to 45 when we actually go into a hockey locker room because it’s almost time for The Saturday Game.
Every Saturday, the men of Mystery (not the “Mystery Men”) play a game of hockey that the whole town shows up for. It’s pretty much their Woodstock, only trade the hippie music for a movie soundtrack that I feel like is offensive to Native Americans, if not just very ignorant.
Froemming: Mystery, Alaska is exactly what (like you mentioned) what people thought living in Bemidji, Minn. is like. It is not far from the truth.
Now, right away I was confused by the accents this movie was going for. It sounded like a mix of the thick Norweigian accent from “Fargo” mixed with made-up bull (REDACTED).
Brown: I think you just described Canadian accents.
Froemming: Crowe’s accent is the worst offender here, going from Marge Gunderson to a Hobbit like those accents are interchangeable.
We catch a glimpse of Smalltown, Anywhere USA as Sheriff John Biebe (Crowe) drives his snowmobile to work, we see the mayor is the Irish son-of-a-bitch from “Under Siege” and the locals all love pond hockey.
Now, during pond hockey we meet Judge Walter Burns (Reynolds) who just ups and smacks his daughter in the face for smooching during the game with her boyfriend. So, throw in some child abuse upon this idyllic town to the north.
Brown: Leave Judge Burns alone. Dude probably has PTSD after that traumatic whitewater rafting incident down in Tennessee.
There’s a buzz in Mystery. Aside from the athletic heroics from this amateur hockey team, the town’s obsession with hockey is about to be featured in an issue of Sports Illustrated. To be fair, a story about a town that basically centers around random dudes playing hockey would be a fun story to write, if only to talk about that town’s harrowing lives. You can also tell how much Sports Illustrated cared about the story because the cover and layout of the article were substandard of SI’s standards, in my opinion.
In the article, they mention how fast the Mystery team is and delve into some of the star players. Biebe is the only one that gets a back-handed compliment because he’s the slowest skater but has a good head for the game.
Because the town’s committee picks the players instead of performing actual government to improve their little isolated city, they decide the article is the final straw in Biebe’s storied Saturday hockey career as he is taken off in favor of the promising high schooler, Stevie Weeks.
Froemming: Man, if you had the freedom to offer back-handed compliments like that on your sports beat…
Anyway, we see Judge Burns and his family enjoying a nice dinner, where the abuse of the family doesn’t stop when he starts complaining to his son, Birdie, that he never passes and will never be the hockey player he was (I think he made it somewhere below pro, I didn’t care enough to jot it down). Nothing like that passive-aggressive tension over a plate of mashed potatoes to make a family feel whole.
Also, the mayor (who I might add, was an international terrorist who helped hijack the USS Missouri, only to be thwarted by the cook who just so happened to be a Navy SEAL) tells John he is off the team. Does nobody in this town’s government actually do anything, or is this Ron Swanson’s dream of an ineffectual government that should be run by Chuck E. Cheese?
Brown: I bet the form of corporal punishment in this town is taking a kid outside, tying them to a hockey net and hitting them with pucks repeatedly. Like Goldberg in “The Mighty Ducks,” only without pads.
Froemming: Well, that did not end very well for old Goldberg.
Brown: Hockey dominates this town so much that when the team’s leading scorer accidently shoots David St. Hubbins a salesman (played my Michael McKean) representing a Wal-Mart ripoff, he is found not guilty AND is ordered by the judge to pay restitution until Judge Burns reminds the jury that A. This isn’t a civil case so there is no restitution and B. they should all be ashamed of themselves.
Naturally, they don’t care, because a (REDACTED) amateur hockey game is the ONLY thing these people live for.
Froemming: I wonder how many cases out of Mystery, Alaska the state Supreme Court has to overturn due to its citizens in the jury pool being made up of yokels who probably eat paint chips?
Brown: If Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Ed Gein could each score 20 goals and 30 assists in a season, they’d still be at large in Mystery, Alaska.
To add even more to the hockey craze, Charles Danner (Azaria), the author of the SI story and a Mystery native, comes via helicopter with the idea of bringing the New York Rangers to play hockey against the Mystery team.
OK, a few things wrong here.
- A TV network is going to send a non-TV guy to make an announcement for this via helicopter? Telephones work in Mystery as well, guys.
- There is no way the Rangers players agree to a mid-season exhibition game. The player’s union would also shut this down in an instant.
- The NHL thinks it’ll get a 14 share on TV in the late ‘90s? With cable TV? Are you mad?!
This is too stupid a premise to happen, right? Right?!
Well, it will eventually, so (REDACTED) me.
Froemming: There is a lot wrong here, I agree. For instance, Charles is a reporter for SI and an assistant producer for a sports news show? Maybe in 2019’s journalism world, but not then when the industry was just burning money.
Now, we kinda get why he flew in on the helicopter, he wanted to woo his old high school sweetheart, Donna — who happens to be John’s wife, you know, the sheriff. So, the industry was so flush with cash that a SI stringer could afford to fly a helicopter into Alaska to make a pitch for this exhibition game.
I am seeing red with rage right now. They just didn’t know how good they had it.
There are elements of a rom-com in this, in that it is a rom-com written by someone who has no idea how relationships work. No worries, these subplots land like a lead balloon and are forgotten fairly soon. Such as Skank, one of the hockey players, who sleeps with the mayor’s wife. They lead up to this sort of blow up and what happens? The mayor just accepts his wife is a trollop and goes on with his life. Charles and Donna? Just awkward exchanges when the movie remembers this was a plot point. Which it does forget from time to time.
Have I mentioned how much I hated this? Because I really hated this movie.
Brown: I think this movie hated women. Biebe treats his wife like property. Skank brags about his sexual conquest like he’s Trump and the rest of the team is Billy Bush and Burt Reynolds hits his daughter, who thinks that now that her boyfriend is playing hockey with a bunch of other townies that she feels forced to sleep with him. I will say that at least Stevie seems like a good kid that actually cares about his girlfriend.
So with the idea that the Rangers are coming to play a game, Mystery goes all in on building a new rink with boards, lights and a zamboni. And, the mayor comes to ask Biebe to rejoin the team.
However, he wants Biebe to coach. And Biebe isn’t ready to give the game up so easily and REALLY wants to pawn that responsibility off on Judge Burns, who played Division 2 hockey, apparently?
One GLARING problem with that. There is no Division 2 hockey. Just 1 and 3, movie.
Froemming: What does hockey think it is, the Traveling Wilburys?
Donna even says something like “coaches always say they prefer coaching to playing” and John says something like “they say that because they can’t play.”
Dude, everyone on this team is late teens to late 20s. You are pushing 40. I get the local Saturday game is fun for you, but you can’t really skate and you never really score any points.
Brown: Also, the town gets this idea that the New York Rangers — one of the original six teams of the NHL — is going to acquiesce to THEIR style of hockey (open ice, no boards, no blue lines). That is incredibly presumptuous.
Then again, I think everyone’s brains in this town are frostbitten. Seriously, the story mentions how the weather is, like, sub-zero all the time in Mystery and yet everyone dresses like it’s mid 30s and the snow is going to melt. As a fellow Minnesotan, I’m sure you were mad at their lack of layering like I was, Froemming.
Froemming: Oh yeah, when it hits below zero, you cover EVERYTHING that might be exposed to the cold. These people would be dead. No hats, no scarves, barely any gloves.
Brown: And, they’re sweating from playing hockey! This is literally everything we’ve been taught since childhood to avoid in cold weather to prevent hypothermia.
Froemming: This movie somehow found a way to insult just about all my sensibilities.
Well, they are preparing now for the Rangers, and they have to play by the other team’s rules. So they are pumping the town’s coffers into all sorts of things when they get a message saying the Rangers are out. They do not want to do this. I don’t blame them, at this point in the movie I too wanted to call a lawyer to find a way out of reviewing this. See, the Rangers are busy and any downtime is needed to, you know, relax the muscles so they are fresh for the next big game. Why waste all that energy on a bunch of weirdos in Alaska?
Well, it is here things go to court. Thank God Mystery, Alaska has a fat lawyer with a bum heart to defend their case in this matter to a judge.
Brown: The town is essentially going bankrupt if this game doesn’t happen. Mystery, Alaska is on the verge of becoming Ben Wyatt’s Ice Town in “Parks & Rec.” This movie is the Ben Wyatt origin story!
Froemming: I hope this Ice Town Costs Mayor Ice Clown his Town Crown!
Brown: They love rhymes in Mystery.
Judge Burns convinces our husky lawyer Bailey to head to New York to listen to the dispute over the game. There, he gives a passionate plea over the love of hockey in Mystery, describing the sad, sad lives that town lives because, again, THEIR LIVES REVOLVE AROUND AN AMATEUR HOCKEY GAME.
The judge is right in this case: Sue the NHL for financial restitution. There, your town isn’t bankrupt. But no, something about pride or something. It doesn’t matter because Bailey has a heart attack in the court room and dies. But, his death is not in vain because the hockey game is back on.
(REDACTED) you, movie. You didn’t earn that bit of sympathy to the town’s plight. Bailey is the worst lawyer we’ve seen on the JOE-DOWN since Cameron Poe’s attorney couldn’t keep him out of jail for seven years for self defense.
Froemming: This is the same joker who got that kid off for shooting Michael McKean in the foot. It is Kangaroo Court in this movie!
Brown: Citing bird law, Charlie Kelly would be the most successful lawyer in the world the way courts are run in the world of “Mystery, Alaska.”
Feeling a tad guilty for sending Bailey to NYC, Judge Burns agrees to coach the Mystery team and reinstates Biebe to the team and makes him captain because why the (REDACTED) not?
The team, they get a training montage complete with sunrise conditioning and pulling dog sleds.
And, Biebe makes amends with his wife in the dumbest (REDACTED) romantic gesture I’ve seen in a movie. He crosses out lines from a Dear Abby column and leaves in the words that describe his wife, I guess? It’s so mind-bogglingly stupid.
Froemming: If this movie is the Rocky of hockey films, then critical thinking is its Apollo Creed and kicks its ass.
Brown: If critical thinking is Apollo Creed, then hokey-ass, non-sensical writing is Ivan Drago just bludgeoning critical thinking to death.
Froemming: If it dies, it dies.
So now we have the Rangers flying into Mystery, and the locals realize these professional athletes with personal trainers and performance-enhancing chemicals are much bigger than the hometown team. No (REDACTED). What did they think? Their logic is on par with Tommy Wiseau’s: Not there. Except with Tommy we get a beautiful mess. Here, it is just a hot mess.
Brown: The Mystery team is full of guys who were the best players in their high school. The Rangers are full of guys who are the best players IN THE WORLD! Sure, Mystery can skate. But the Rangers can skate AND shoot AND hit AND puck handle AND can shoot the puck with surgical precision.
This should be a 25-0 game in favor of the Rangers. And that’s what the outside world thinks, including Mike Myers as a Don Cherry-like hockey analyst which is such a weird cameo until you remember that A. Director Jay Roach also did the “Austin Powers” movies and B. That weird cameo is usurped minutes later when Little (REDACTED) Richard is brought in to sing the national anthem.
Froemming: This is how the Mystery folks should be reacting to the game they watch.
Before this, we have Charlie getting drunk and stealing the zamboni, wondering why the town hates him. They hate you because you moved on to brighter things, Charlie. You didn’t stick around and be a local townie, getting drunk on Schlitz and recalling the glory days of high school.
You should have just stayed away and lived your life, man.
Brown: Bigger Hank Azaria mistake: This or “Godzilla?”
Froemming: At least he did “Mystery Men” which is a favorite of mine.
So the game is on, with Mike Myers as the color commentary. The team holds up, rallies and begins scoring since Little (REDACTED) Richard sang so long, causing the Rangers to freeze, a sentence I never thought I would ever write in my life.
But the Rangers get wise to this, and start doing shifts in the warmer locker room and begin to dominate our hometown heroes, as they should. If they lost, everyone on the Rangers should have been fired.
Brown: Well, that Little Richard strategy works when Mystery takes a 2-0 lead after the first period. It’s to the point that Mike Myers becomes a Mystery fanboy after, you know, asking Hank Azaria where he can get a handjob in Mystery. Sorry Mike, you’re not Robert Kraft and there’s no Orchids of Asia spa in Mystery.
But yeah, the Rangers wise up, get warm and go up 5-2. But Mystery gets a pep talk from Biebe in the locker room and manage to close the gap to 5-4 with 45 seconds to go.
Quick aside: During one of the breaks, did you notice the sign in the crowd that says “Hey Skank, I’m Pregnant?”
Froemming: I did not. But it seems right for this movie.
So they set up for a big comeback. And Conner…misses the shot to tie the game, giving the victory to the professional athletes. If this were a better movie, I would have appreciated that. But since this movie was awful, it didn’t earn this. I was glad these townies lost.
Brown: As the crowd went quiet, I wrote in my notes “Come on, where’s the slow clap?” Burt Reynolds came through with it because this movie LOVES its cliches. And they get respectful stick taps from the Rangers for the hard-fought game.
Froemming: It was so (REDACTED) stupid.
But hey, silver lining: Conner and Stevie get contracts for the pros, and are flying out to NYC for a brighter future. Because why the (REDACTED) not?!
Brown: How does any of this work? How old is Conner? Why waste money if he’s some late-20-something when you can get a better, younger player? And Stevie is still in high school so you can’t sign him yet. You can draft him after his senior year but now? No.
*Sigh* It’s the end of this movie, why am I still trying to make sense of this?
Let’s just hop in our helicopter and go to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: I think this is a perfect JOE-DOWN movie because it’s so nonsensical. We glossed over a lot of stupid bits of the movie. With that said, it’s not a good movie, so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Froemming: I’m mailing this DVD to Brown with an angry, strongly worded letter.