Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jay Roach|
|Produced by||David E. Kelley|
|Written by||David E. Kelley
|Music by||Carter Burwell|
|Edited by||Jon Poll|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Release date(s)||October 1, 1999|
|Running time||119 minutes|
Mystery, Alaska is a 1999 comedy-drama film directed by Jay Roach about an amateur ice hockey team, from the fictional small-town of Mystery, that plays an exhibition game against the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League. It was shot in Banff National Park and in a "town" built for the purpose outside Canmore, Alberta.
The movie is about a fictional small town in Alaska named Mystery, where hockey is the cohesive activity that unites the town. The "Saturday Game" is a weekly event of amateur four-on-four pond hockey played on the open ice of the town's frozen lake. The team consists of ten local townsmen of varying ages and occupations with two goalies and eight skaters publicly scrimmaging each other every Saturday. As there are only ten spots on the team, in order to make room on the roster for the younger up-and-coming town players an older more senior member of the team must be kicked off the team. After an article describing the town and its players appears in Sports Illustrated, a nationally televised exhibition game is scheduled between the NHL's New York Rangers and the hometown favorites in Mystery, Alaska.
The movie opens with scenes of a barren snow-scape, panning in to man skating on a river, holding a hockey stick.
The sheriff of Mystery is John Biebe, who is married to Donna, with whom he has three young sons. He is one of the townsfolk who play in "the Saturday Game"—a weekly hockey game played on an open pond. The entire town, which is hockey-mad, turns out every week to watch.
"Skank" Marden comes into the locker room and tells his teammates how he had had sex with Sarah Heinz, who is supposed to be "this shy girl". Amid ribald laughter, he says that she "is much fatter naked," and that she sounded like a walrus.
After the game commences, we see young Stevie Weeks in the stands, kissing Marla Burns, daughter of the town's judge. When the judge sees what is going on, he raps Stevie on the head, explaining not only to him and Marla that "there are things you do in public and things you don't", but also to his wife that he is "nipping it in the bud". During the game, John Biebe is seen missing a goal. Donna (John's wife) arrives with the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, which features an article on the town and the Saturday Game. She gives the magazine to the mayor, who reads aloud from it. The article serves also to explain the nature of the Saturday Game, as well as to introduce some of the prominent team members. It also refers to John as being "slow in the feet", but concludes with a statement that on the ability to skate, the Mystery team rivals any team in the National Hockey League(NHL).
That evening, Judge Burns has supper with his wife, daughter (Marla) and son ("Birdie"). He and Birdie get into an argument about the game, with the judge saying that Birdie doesn't play well because he skates "like a figure skater", and doesn't pass. After the judge leaves the table in a huff, Birdie says the problem is that his father didn't play in the Saturday Game. Marla points out that he played "College 2 A", which Birdie disparages by saying that isn't the same as the Saturday Game. In an effort to change the subject, Mrs Burns mentions that Price World may be interested in moving in to Mystery, which would threaten all the local businesses.
During the next week, John is called into the Mayor's office to be told that he is being dropped from the Saturday game, in favour of Stevie Weeks (an up-and-coming high school kid). Clearly disgruntled, he returns to his office, where everyone apparently already knows. He assures his wife Donna that he is ok, though she seems to doubt it.
Skank Marden and the mayor's wife, Mary Jane, have been having an affair. At the school, where he is a teacher, he protests to her that she should have told him about John Biebe being dropped from the team. The mayor then enters, and Skank expresses his disgust at the decision, saying, "John Biebe is the anchor, godsakes!"
John is seen in a diner with his eldest son, and comes over to Stevie Weeks who is with a group of teenage boys. John offers him congratulations, saying that if he skates the way he can, he will be fine. John is then called away because Connor Banks (who is by far the team's best player) "has just shot a guy." When he arrives, both his deputy, Bobby Michan, and Connor seem more concerned about John having been dropped than about Connor having shot someone. While Connor is being read his rights, the deputy explains to John what happened. Connor and a rep from Price World (Mr Walsh) got into an argument; Connor fired a shot to frighten him, but the bullet ricocheted and hit the rep in the foot. Mr Walsh is then seen having his foot treated while swearing angrily about Connor and railing against this "fuck-ass fuck of a bumfuck shithole town". The sheriff is then called away as there is helicopter about to land at the town hall.
A man emerges from the helicopter, and is greeted by John who asks, "I'm slow in the feet?" This turns out to be the author of the Sports Illustrated article, Charles Danner, who says he comes "bearing the New York Rangers". In the mayor's office, he explains to the Committee that as a result of his article the NHL suggested that the New York Rangers be brought up to Mystery to play the town's team in a televised friendly.
At a town meeting called to discuss the matter, the mayor re-introduces Charles, who although originally from Mystery, seems not to have been very popular. Initially feelings about the match are mixed. The mayor asks John whether Mystery would be able to make a game of it, to which he replies that only Connor Banks in the team can come close in terms of actually hockey-skills. However, the match would be played on a huge pond and black ice, and he concludes with, "We can skate." Judge Burns expresses his opposition, but then Birdie stands up defiantly and indicates his eagerness to play, after which the go-ahead for the game is given a rousing endorsement.
Later John is approached by the mayor, and assumes that he will be invited back onto the team. However, the mayor wants John only to coach: Judge Burns has refused to do so. John says that he doesn’t know how to coach.
Marla and Stevie take a ride in his snow plough. She offers to have sex with him, and explains that now he in the Saturday Game, he will get offers from other girls. They partially undress, but he ejaculates before she can get a condom on him.
Skank visits Sarah Heinz, and asks her if she wants a "quickie". However, she hits him on the head with a shovel, knocking him unconscious while asking him indignantly, "Mother walrus going thwap, thwap, thwap?" Skank is shown later receiving stitches from the doctor.
The next morning Donna and Charlie meet, and they discuss his present assignment and allude to their past relationship.
Connor Banks's arraignment is brought before Judge Burns, with his attorney, Bailey Pruit, accepting a trial date for the following week. Connor informs him that he doesn't want a trial so soon in case he loses, which would mean he would miss the upcoming game. Bailey tells him not to worry because no jury will lock up the town’s star player.
Back in the locker room, John also reminds everyone about their locker room code, which is that nothing said inside is to be repeated outside. But Kevin Holt had repeated to someone what Skank had said about Sarah Heinz, which is why she hit him with the shovel. Skank confirms that he wants to enforce the sanction—which is that Holt has to skate naked and then skid on the ice into a mound of snow.
At Connor’s trial, Bailey Pruit asks the victim, Mr Walsh (the rep from Price World), what he thinks of Mystery, and asks him to confirm verbatim transcripts that the sheriff had taken at the time, in which he had disparaged the town.
Before the next Saturday game, the players watch some NHL hockey on TV, and it emerges that the Rangers players are not keen to play the match, which they disparage as "a joke". During the game, Stevie is shown to be an extremely fast skater, though it is taking him time to find his feet. He crashes into "Tree" Lane, and is knocked unconscious. While the game continues, Donna and Charlie are seen chatting happily together, reminiscing about past relationship, with Charlie making a few snide remarks about Donna's "well fed" husband. John looks on, unamused.
Later, while the doctor is examining him in the locker room, Stevie who is still concussed, informs Birdie that his sister's breasts are "perky", which leads Birdie to knock him unconscious again.
The jury delivers a "not guilty" verdict on Connor Banks. Amid much jubilation, Judge Burns angrily addresses those assembled, telling them that they have exalted the hockey game above what is right, and that they have disgraced themselves and his courtroom. Birdie confronts him in his chambers, and says that actually it is him (Birdie) that his father is really ashamed of, because he (Birdie) chose not to go to college, but had chosen to stay so he could partake in the Saturday Game.
In the evening, crew from Charlie's TV network arrive. They meet with the mayor and John, informing them that they want to call the team the Mystery Eskimos, which they both take offence to. While arguing with Charlie on the street, Judge Burns arrives. John asks him to coach as he doesn’t know how to, but the Judge turns him down.
Preparations for the match continue, with it becoming obvious that it is now becoming much more than a game of pond hockey. The mayor and his wife Mary Jane are discussing the forthcoming game, when he finds a locket which he realizes is Skank's. He confronts Mary Jane, and says, "Skank Marden has been in this bed."
When the mayor meets Charlie the next morning, Charlie tells him that the Rangers players had filed a grievance with their players' union, and are no longer coming. The mayor punches Charlie, giving him a bloody nose.
John and Donna have a fight, and he accuses of harboring feelings for Charlie.
Judge Burns meets Bailey Pruit and tells him that there is a hearing in New York over the legal dispute. He suggests to him that it might be useful for Mystery to have a presence, and suggests a few legal arguments he could use.
Mary Jane is seeing approaching an isolated shed where her husband has been living. She goes in and they reconcile.
At the legal hearing in New York, Bailey Pruit makes an impassioned plea for the game to continue, during which he suffers a fatal heart attack. After the funeral back in Mystery, it is revealed that he won the case, and the game is back on. John confronts the judge, saying that as he sent Bailey to New York he would now have to take over the coaching. The judge agrees, but only if John will come back onto the team as captain.
Under the guidance of the judge, the team is seen training frantically for the match.
The Rangers' players arrive by helicopter and are greeted by the mayor and townsfolk, who are all amazed at their size. John is called away to deal with a problem, which is revealed to be Charlie driving drunkenly on a Zamboni. He and John talk, and he reveals his bitterness towards Mystery, which he believes rejected him. John points out to him that bringing the Rangers to Mystery it could destroy the town if its team lost very badly.
Skank visits the home of the mayor to apologize and promises to do everything in his power to win the game for Mystery, and him as mayor.
Back at home, John reconciles with Donna.
On the morning of the match, the mayor visits the trailer of Little Richard, and asks him to do an unspecified favor. Then, before the start of the game, Little Richard is brought on to sing the national anthem, which he does very slowly, which causes great discomfort to the Rangers players, who are unaccustomed to being outside in such cold.
During the match, the Mystery team take time to settle, but eventually go ahead two goals to nothing in the first period. (One of the goals is scored by Stevie, who impresses the commentators with his speed.) In the second period however, the Rangers score five unanswered goals (thus leading 5 to 2). Birdie costs the team a goal through his desire to “go it alone” when he should have passed. Unwilling to accept defeat, Mystery scores two goals in the third period, including one from a pass that Birdie makes instead of shooting for goal himself. As the clock ticks down, Connor has a chance to level the scores, but his shot hits the crossbar, and the game is over, with the score at 5 – 4 to the Rangers. Both the Mystery team and spectators appear completely deflated, until Judge Burns starts clapping for them, after which even the Rangers players applaud them.
The following day the Rangers leave, and it is revealed that both Stevie Weeks and Connor Banks have been given professional contracts and fly out with the Rangers. Before he leaves, Charlie and takes his leave of John and Donna. He and John show each other a degree of mutual respect.
- Russell Crowe – Sheriff John Biebe
- Hank Azaria – Charles Danner
- Mary McCormack – Donna Biebe
- Burt Reynolds – Judge Walter Burns
- Colm Meaney – Mayor Scott R. Pitcher
- Lolita Davidovich – Mary Jane Pitcher
- Maury Chaykin – Bailey Pruitt
- Ron Eldard – Matt "Skank" Marden
- Michael Buie - Connor Banks
- Ryan Northcott – Stevie Weeks
- Beth Littleford – Janice Pettiboe
- Kevin Durand – "Tree" Lane
- Scott Grimes – Brian "Birdie" Burns
- Jason Gray-Stanford – Bobby Michan
- Adam Beach – Galin Winetka
- Leroy Peltier - Ben Winetka
- Cameron Bancroft – "Tinker" Connolly
- Michael McKean – Mr. Walsh
- Rachel Wilson – Marla Burns
- Megyn Price – Sarah Heinz
- Judith Ivey – Mrs. Joanne Burns
- Terry David Mulligan – Dr. Henry Savage
- Mike Myers – Donnie Shulzhoffer
- Jim Fox – himself
- Phil Esposito – himself
- Little Richard – himself
- L. Scott Caldwell – Judge McGibbons
- Steve Levy – himself
- Barry Melrose – himself
The New York Rangers
The New York Rangers' roster portrayed in the film is entirely fictional. The players from the real life New York Rangers declined to be in the film.
Critical reception and box office total
Mystery, Alaska received mixed-to-negative reviews. Along with the original consensus "The lack of hockey action and authenticity left critics cold," Rotten Tomatoes ranked the movie with 38%. It had very poor take-ins as well, grossing only $8,891,623, against an estimated budget of $28 million.
- Mystery, Alaska at the Internet Movie Database
- Mystery, Alaska at AllMovie
- Mystery, Alaska at Rotten Tomatoes
- Mystery, Alaska at Box Office Mojo
- "‘Mystery, Alaska’ Sports a Few Surprises" by Edvins Beitiks (San Francisco Examiner, 10/1/99) and "Jay Roach, Man of Mystery" by Joshua Mooney (Entertainment News Wire), both stored online at http://www.maximumcrowe.net/maxcrowe_mapress.html, Retrieved 19-Sep-2013
- "Mystery, Alaska - Rotten Tomatoes". Rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 2012-05-31.
- "Trivia for Mystery, Alaska (1999)". Retrieved 2007-02-08.