Wednesday, September 22, 2010

TIFF Review - Score: A Hockey Musical

Canadians are a proud people. Every once in a while, a Canadian movie causes those deep-seeded red-and-white feelings to rise to the top. A film can come along that captures our spirit and humour and love of our country. Score: A Hockey Musical is not that film.

A pandering, uneven, and largely derivative hockey movie, Score is a disappointment. The fact that it was the gala opening for the Toronto International Film Festival just increases the embarrassment.

Farley Gordon (Noah Reid) is a home-schooled teenager who has been sheltered from the world. His one non-educational activity seems to be playing shinny at the outdoor rink across the road from his bedroom with the locals. Naturally, he's the best player on the ice. He gets discovered by the owner (Stephen McHattie) of the Brampton Blades, a minor-league team full of players who will never see the NHL. Convinced to go against his granola-munching elitist parents (Olivia Newton-John and Marc Jordan), he joins the team.

Of course, being the sheltered son of neo-Trotskyist pacifists, he's SHOCKED that there's some physicality in the game he loves. The Blades are, of course, the roughest team in a league of goons. Bench-clearing brawls are commonplace, their star is a guy named "Moose" who is obviously the league's prize fighter, and the fans want blood.

His talent shoots Farley to national superstardom in a single game. By 3 games in, he's got an agent, underwear ad, and is testing a cologne. The fact he's the best player since Sidney Crosby (stated numerous times, along with his ignorance of who that is) gets him protected by his teammates, until he covers up during a fight with another team's goalie. Now he's not only a pariah to his team, but a national disgrace.

Etc, etc... the whole thing follows the hockey movie playbook. There's the female best friend from childhood who secretly loves him (and vice-versa), but gets temporarily turned off by his jackassery due to fame. His coach doesn't get this gentle kid, but is under ownership orders to play him. Teammates accept him, reject him, accept him again. His parents go from dead-set against his choice to realizing they're bad parents. It's all in there.

Even the fighting. Which is possibly the most disappointing aspect of the movie. This is 2010. Fighting is still a part of the game, but not to the extent it was in the 70's and 80's. The movie pretends the Blades are the Broad Street Bullies, loaded up with Hanson brothers. Fighting is hockey, and hockey is fighting. If you don't fight, you're a pussy who a country will turn against. Vague justifications are given, and a completely unbelievable solution is found. Seriously - had the writer not heard of Wayne Gretzky? Oh wait, he had to have, because Wayne's dad Walter is in the movie.

There is one scene, where a team-on-team battle becomes a ballet that almost makes a point about how even the fisticuffs have a poetic motion to them - but since it's not followed up on, it can be easily forgotten.

Obviously, the writer knew he'd written every other hockey movie out there, so he tossed in some song-and-dance numbers. Remember, it's "A Hockey Musical". The songs are generally forgettable, pedantic, and stretch to fit the plot. There's some clever wordplay here and there, and even the occasional catchy tune, but overall, it's a tacked-on effort that makes you wonder why they bothered.

Granted, the dream sequence with Walter Gretzky and Theo Fleury was pretty hilarious, if only a minute long.

Then there's the supporting cast - the team and coaches are fine (and Chris Ratz is funny when he gets to speak). Stephen McHattie is awesome (as always) as the owner of the Blades. Oliva Newton-John gets by on being, well, Olivia Newton-John. Marc Jordan comes off as "I guess Eugene Levy was busy". Allie MacDonald (Farley's best friend-cum-girlfriend, Eve) is cute enough, but pouts and sighs her way through the role. There's also vague Italian guy who's generally useless. In short - the cast is either serviceable or distracting.

Oh, and Nelly Furtado is in it for some reason. She doesn't really sing, act, or do anything else. Just cheers in the back row as a some sort of super-fan.

It's a shame that this movie fails so much. It starts of with John McDermott singing "O Canada", just like he does at Leafs games, which stirred my patriotic heart. Sadly, it just got more pandering from there, to the point where it went from funny to sad. But hey, if you like playing "where is that in Toronto", it's fun for about 10 scenes, then they've covered them all.

If you're Canadian or a hockey fan, I recommend watching this film alone in a small room and not telling anyone. You'll chuckle, maybe cheer a bit, and then grow increasingly anxious to grab another beer and maybe forget about the rest of the movie, since you know how it ends. If you're American - please forget this movie exists and never watch it. We don't need your opinions of us further ruined.

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