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Mystery, Alaska

Threat advisory: Severe - Severe risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

The remote and isolated Mystery, Alaska - a little town on the outskirts of greatness - may look cold and unexciting from the outside, but inside, behind closed doors, Mystery has all the sex scandals, hidden secrets, prying eyes and political hypocrisies of any urban den of iniquity. And it has a darn good hockey team. In a town where everybody knows everybody else's business, a human interest story in a national magazine suddenly thrusts the village into the world spotlight. When the town's amateur hockey team accepts the challenge of a face-off against the New York Rangers, the entire population must put petty rivalries behind them and prove there is no mystery to Mystery.

Starring Russell Crowe as John Biebe, Burt Reynolds as Judge Walter Burns, Hank Azaria as Charles Danner and Colm Meaney as Mayor Scott Pitcher. Written by David E Kelley and Sean O'Byrne, directed by Jay Roach.

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Varsity blues on ice.

Replace the small town of East Canaan, Texas with the small town of of Mystery, Alaska and grid iron with ice hockey and you're pretty much there. Add a little teen sex, some locker room guy stuff, some rebellion against authority figures, a big guy who's really sensitive, a hyper guy who's sexually active, a quiet and cute guy who's not, a coach who's a bastard, a winner-takes-all big game and lots of sports action and you've crossed the line. The one real and rewarding difference is that Mystery, Alaska is an adult flick rather than a teen one. (Not that there's anything wrong with teen flicks).

Therein lies the dilemma, because having just relegated this pic to the bowels of clichédom, I will now tell you why it's worth seeing.

The parent/child conflict is taken to a new height by adding an extra 10 years of butting heads. The claustrophobic nature of small-town life is enhanced by a whole lot of people being born, living and dying in the same little corner of Alaska (Canada, really, but all Alaskan locations are shot there: it's cheaper, quicker and easier); it's not just about people wanting to leave and grow, it's about people putting roots so far down that they couldn't leave even if they wanted to. The sport stuff is about under- and over-dogs, but for once the filmmakers have taken the proper path (the little guys lose - told you there were spoilers in these reviews!).

But the real difference is the depth which adult actors can bring to such seemingly stock characters. Russell's hick Sheriff is confident while maintaining a quiet, sensitive and loving side. In these parts a man is free to love those around him and to show it (as long as it doesn't involve touching their butt, of course). He is a complex man who survives and lives in the harsh Alaskan hinterland. Meanwhile, Burt goes miles beyond the macho wanker roles that made him famous. Sure, Walter is an arrogant arsehole, but he does it with style and meaning. He's a human being, not a cardboard cut out.

The whole team (and this is pretty mush an ensemble film) is strong, no one is out of place. There is a depth and reality to Mystery, Alaska which actually brought me to tears. I haven't cried because of a movie for years, so that's saying something.

While there are only so many things that can be done with a small town and a sport, David, Sean and Jay have managed to make their film worth seeing. Even if it's only for relief from the Sydney summer. Enjoy.

Security censorship classification

M (Medium level coarse languaeg, medium level sex scene, sexual references)

Surveillance time

119 minutes (1:59 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

DVD rental: 15 November 2000

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