High-schtick 'Score' kicks off Toronto fest

Critics drub 'lightweight' hockey musical as 'pure camp'

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TORONTO -- The Toronto International Film Festival dropped the puck on its 35th edition Thursday night with "Score: A Hockey Musical," a homegrown movie that puts Canada's national game to music.

"The Mighty Ducks" worked for Disney, so Toronto organizers this year opted for high-schticking over high art, with Michael McGowan's campy tale about hockey players spontaneously bursting into song as they fight and fall in love.

McGowan led his cast up the opening-night red carpet outside Roy Thomson Hall, including Olivia Newton-John, who plays a hockey mom in "Score" and showed up in a leopard-skin gown, Nelly Furtado and newcomer Noah Reid, who plays a gifted hockey player who finds stardom on the ice has a price -- the need to drop the gloves to get to the top.

Being Canadian, "Score" takes a sideswipe at violence by urging pacifism, on and off the ice.

"Our innocence is our charm," McGowan said while striding up the red carpet.

"What can I say about tonight's film? Poutine, maple syrup, saying sorry. These are things that define us as Canadians," TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey added when introducing the film to the first-night audience.

In the end, "Score" played well with local Torontonians at Roy Thomson Hall, whether "Grease" or hockey fans who grew up with a stick and puck in their hands. (Read THR's review here.)

Local film critics proved a tougher crowd, and mostly sent TIFF programmers into the penalty box.

"The lyrics are deliberate groaners, and the whole thing is so over-the-top, there is potential for durable cult fandom in its future. We endorse it as pure camp," Jim Slotek wrote in the Toronto Sun.

The Globe and Mail newspaper put the Toronto festival in the penalty box for dumbing down with its choice for an opener. "'Score' is Canadian with a vengeance, certainly the most unashamedly, irrepressibly, gleefully parochial film ever to open the Toronto festival," G&M film critic Rick Groen wrote. "It may also be the worst film ever to open the Toronto festival"

"This is about as lightweight as the festival has got in its 35-year history," Brian D. Johnson, Maclean's film critic and TIFF chronicler, chimed in.

Hollywood stars and foreign films will next take the stage in Toronto as the festival continues Friday through Sept. 19.

Robert Redford will unveil "Conspirator" at Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday night, Danny Boyle will debut "127 Hours," and David Schwimmer is bringing "Trust," which stars Clive Owen and Catherine Keener for a Friday night gala.

The Hollywood contingent in Toronto will include Kevin Spacey, Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Matt Damon, Nicole Kidman, Robert De Niro, Hilary Swank, Edward Norton and Josh Hartnett.

Also Toronto-bound over the next 10 days are Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray, Ellen Page, Kelly Preston, Kevin Bacon, Megan Fox and Kristin Scott Thomas. 
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