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Ice, Ice, Baby: Kelley Heads North

By Kelley E. Morrell, Contributing Writer

Mystery, Alaska

Directed by Jay Roach

Starring Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria

Hollywood Pictures

It's quite rare to see a movie that evokes the whole gamut of emotions. Mystery, Alaska had not only me, but also the packed theater, giddy with enthusiasm, empathy, and adoration.

After seeing the preview repeatedly on television, I thought with disdain that this movie surely would be just another horrifically cheesy Mighty Ducks failure. Mystery, Alaska is easily the surprise of the early fall movie line-up. After a rather slow start, the movie's plot and humor accelerate into a charming satire of small town America.

The story line is pure and simple. Mystery, a tiny town of only 663 people is obsessed with hockey. They don't watch TV or movies, and to the outsider, they don't even seem to have jobs. They eat, drink and breathe hockey. Even the first graders are in on the latest hockey gossip. The trouble begins when this dinky city falls victim to a publicity stunt directed by one of their own former residents who is in search of big city fame. His article in Sports Illustrated sparks interest in Mystery's "Saturday Game" hockey club, the central artery of the town's existence, bringing a flurry of attention to the tiny town. The same bygone resident fulfills his brilliant plan and flies the world-famous New York Rangers in to face off, in what may be the ultimate lopsided competition, against the team from Mystery. Television and technology inundate the town, which is not even ready for the superchain Pricemart to taint the citizens, as the movie follows the hilarious lives of the teammates whose days jobs include a grocery store clerk, the town sheriff and a high school jock. Who knew that hockey could be so fun!

The hit duo of famed director Jay Roach, whose accolades include both Austin Powers films, and David E. Kelley, producer of "Ally McBeal" insert their characteristic wit and humor to bring out the best in this slightly odd looking comedy. Mystery Alaska's funny roots are evident in this rip-roaring comedy which combines an awful idea with some ingenious humor. The movie takes a while to get started, and after a half an hour of crude jokes about sex and hockey, you begin to wonder if people do anything else in Mystery besides fornicate and smack pucks. This satiric comedy points out the fact that, well, they don't.

The little gems of the movie are what make it shine. A "Dawson's Creek"-esque subplot gleefully proves more graphic than anything that you'd ever see on the WB, while a fat lawyer, and the town gigolo named Skank, whose promiscuous sexual nature seems to make its way around the tiny town more than once, heat up all the chilly proceedings. A pair of cute little blond kids with potty mouths like you've never heard, the star of the hockey team, who is on trial for shooting a guy from New York City and cameos by some very unexpected stars round out a surprisingly impressive package.

In other cheesy, feel good movies like Air Force One, predictability and corny catch lines pervade the film. Mystery, Alaska has enough quirkiness to avoid the deadly trap; scenes turn the audience upside-down with laughter, jolt them with unexpected sadness, and energize them with pride, enthusiasm and even team spirit. This Florida native seriously considered moving to a small town near the Yukon Territory to take up ice hockey after seeing the movie.

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