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Nothing to Crowe about, but worth seeing Russell Crowe, a Ranger

Before he was the "Gladiator,"
Russell Crowe fought the ice wars in ...


"Mystery, Alaska"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)

Russell Crowe, Burt ReynoldsFrom TV's current flavor of the month David E. Kelley comes the town of Mystery, a small settlement amid the magnificent scenery of Alaska. There isn't much to do there, so an awful lot of fornicating goes on. There is also a weekly hockey game that involves the young men of the town playing against one another on the town pond. The wide open space of the pond breeds tremendous skaters, guys who take flight on ice.

It also attracts the attention of Sports Illustrated writer Charlie Danner (Hank Azaria), who is actually an ex-townie who was never well-liked. He calls them the best pond-hockey players in the world, and arranges a game with the NHL's New York Rangers (like that would happen). And, predictably, this energizes the town and it's somewhat quirky inhabitants.

Lolita Davidovich, Mary McCormackThere's the passionate, but somewhat befuddled lawyer (Maury Chaykin) who sits on the town's hockey committee, and loves Mystery perhaps more than anyone else. There's the crusty but good-hearted mayor (Colm Meaney). There's the curmudgeonly judge who wants nothing to do with the game (Burt Reynolds). There's also the libidinous defenseman (Ron Eldard) who has more cojones than sense. Finally, there's Sheriff John Biebe (Russell Crowe), who is a veteran of the Saturday game recently demoted, now the reluctant coach of the team.

DVD notes

Virtually no extras. Crisp, clear digital sound and image don't make up for a DVD price. Unless you absolutely have to have the theatrical trailer, skip the DVD and order the VHS tape instead. (A demur from Doc: No video tape is going to have the picture quality of a DVD, and the VHS quality will start to degrade seriously after 10 years or so; if you are going to BUY a film, always choose DVD over VHS when possible. If you treat them decently, a DVD will be good past our lifetimes. Rent it before you buy it to see if you like it, ya know?)

This being a sports underdog movie, the overall outcome is more or less predictable. Director Jay Roach (both of the Austin Powers movies) has assembled a fine cast. Reynolds, for example, is fast becoming a great character actor after years of floundering in lead roles after his glory years. Crowe shows some of the qualities that would elevate him in movies such as "The Insider" and "Gladiator," but here he's not quite as luminous as he would become in those breakout roles.

The success of "Mystery, Alaska" lies in creating a mood, and that is done rather well. Take away the unbelievable scenario and the sports-film cliches and you'd have a mighty good movie. Those obstacles, alas, are too difficult to overcome and this becomes just a pretty good movie.

Theater or Video?
Some nice Alaskan vistas (filmed in Canada) but mostly, this takes place in a TV-like environment. Small screen all the way.

DVD at Amazon.com.
VHS at Amazon.com.

See cast, credit and other details about "Mystery, Alaska" at Internet Movie Data Base.