Mystery, Alaska

on October 01, 1999 by Annlee Ellingson
   A hybrid of "Northern Exposure" and your favorite sports movie, "Mystery, Alaska" combines the quirky hinterland denizens of the former with the latter's tense climax. A small Alaskan town, Mystery's claim to fame is the Saturday game, a scrimmage among local hockey players. When community outcast Charles Danner (Hank Azaria) writes up his hometown in "Sports Illustrated," claiming their Mystery boys could rival the New York Rangers, the professionals rise to the challenge, migrating north to meet them on their own turf. As the media surrounding the event escalates, and the promise of tourism dollars forces the mayor to drain the town's finances, the men begin to wonder if their shot at fame is worth the possibility of humiliation.
   As captain of the team John Biebe, Australian Russell Crowe emerges as the star of this ensemble, leading his teammates courageously while clinging to his wife, who may be enticed by ex-boyfriend Danner's big-city lifestyle. But the rest of the eclectic Mystery boys--the high school kid who forces Biebe into retirement, the grocery clerk who escapes an assault charge because he's the best shot on the team, the gentle giant dubbed "Tree," the skank who sleeps around because there's nothing better to do in cold weather--give the team and the film, despite its cliché trappings, heart. Heart that makes you really care about the outcome of the game and then realize that the outcome of the game really doesn't matter. As an added bonus, screenwriters David E. Kelley (creator of TV's "Ally McBeal") and Sean O'Byrne have shaped well-rounded female characters as well, acknowledging that it takes a certain kind of woman to live in the Alaskan wilderness in a community driven by testosterone.    Starring Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Mary McCormack, Burt Reynolds, Colm Meaney and Lolita Davidovich. Directed by Jay Roach. Written by David E. Kelley and Sean O'Byrne. Produced by Howard Baldwin and David E. Kelley. A Buena Vista release. Comedy. Rated R for language and sexuality. Running time: 119 min.
Tags: Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Mary McCormack, Burt Reynolds, Colm Meaney, Lolita Davidovich, Jay Roach, David E. Kelley, Sean O'Byrne, Howard Baldwin, ensemble, big-bity, game, assault

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