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|
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 National Hockey League (NHL)'s New York Rangers. 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.
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Sheriff John Biebe, who is married to Donna, 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. 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 and reprimands them both. Donna arrives with the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, which features an article on the town and the Saturday Game. 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, while having supper with his family Judge Burns and his son Birdie get into an argument about the game, with the judge saying that Birdie doesn't play well because he doesn't pass. 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.
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.
John sees Stevie Weeks at the diner and offers him congratulations. John is then called away because Connor Banks, the team's best player, has just shot someone. While Connor is being read his rights, the deputy explains to John what happened. Connor and a rep from Price World named 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 the town. John is then called away as there is helicopter about to land at the town hall. Charles Danner, the author of the Sports Illustrated article, steps out of the helicopter. 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 exhibition game.
At a town meeting called to discuss the matter, the mayor re-introduces Charlie, who although originally from Mystery, seems not to have been very popular. Charlie is also revealed to have once been romantically connected with Donna. Initially feelings about the match are mixed but then Birdie indicates his eagerness to play and 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.
Connor Banks' 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. At Connor’s trial, Bailey asks the victim, Mr. Walsh 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. 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 tells him he feels that he was always ashamed of his son for staying in town to play hockey, instead of going to college.
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. 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 John is 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." They fight, but some days later they reconcile.
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. Judge Burns meets Bailey 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.
At the hearing Bailey makes an impassioned plea for the game to continue. However, while still arguing the case 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 could destroy the town if its team were to lose very badly.
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. 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.
- 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
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.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- "‘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.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
- "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- "Trivia for Mystery, Alaska (1999)". Retrieved 2007-02-08.
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