Mystery, Alaska

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Mystery, Alaska

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Mystery, Alaska

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In all but the most exceptional of sports movies, the question isn't so much whether the scrappy underdogs will win the big game (after all, either outcome brings its own set of cliches), but whether the film will sustain its audience's attention apart from that issue. Failing, if not miserably so, in that respect is Mystery, Alaska, co-scripted by TV demigod David E. Kelley and directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers). Leading a large ensemble, Russell Crowe stars as the sheriff of a hockey-mad Alaska town where, in what sounds like a vaguely medieval tradition, the town council chooses its best athletes to play hockey against each other every Saturday. After writing an article about his hometown for Sports Illustrated, a local-boy-made-good (Hank Azaria) strikes a deal to bring the New York Rangers to challenge the Mystery team. Complications ensue, trouble is stirred, and hearts are eventually warmed. Working with first-time screenwriter Sean O'Byrne, Kelley has created a lazy script that feels like an unsold pilot for a TV series. Not only does it pad its running time with more subplots than it can possibly support (giving welcome screen time to some good actors but giving them nothing to sink their teeth into), it also includes a trash-talking elderly woman (in case Betty White in Kelley's Lake Placid wasn't enough) and not one but two courtroom scenes, lest audiences forget what Kelley (by reputation at least) does best. Late cameos by Mike Myers and Little Richard provide some, but not enough, sparks, but any film that features an impassioned courtroom speech by Maury Chaykin that forces him to say, "This game isn't about money, it's about..." before trailing off, grabbing his chest, and dropping dead is beyond the point of redemption. Of Kelley's two films this year, it's better than Lake Placid, but what isn't?

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