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On Oct. 2, 1992, Buena Vista released The Mighty Ducks, an underdog story about a powerhouse lawyer who’s sentenced to community service and ordered to coach an inept youth hockey team. The film was panned by critics but a success with its young target audience. It also remains the only film ever to have a professional sports franchise named after it. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
The Bad News Bears on ice is the basic pitch line for The Mighty Ducks, a rollicking Buena Vista release that should take in some tidy, if not mighty, bucks among those too young to recall not only the Bears but Wildcats, The Karate Kid and all other underdogs of the recent past.
Elementary school kids should warm to this rambunctious tale of teamwork and personal triumph, happily unaware of its cookie-cutter corners.
About the only variation in this outing from its generic brethren is that the sport is ice hockey, the setting Minneapolis. Like The Bad News Bears and Wildcats, the coach is not your standard sideliner.
In this spin, it’s win-at-all-costs attorney Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) who’s been sentenced to coach as a form of community service for a DUI.
A twentysomething snotnose, Bombay might be more properly named Bombast, such is his arrogance and disdain for the disorganized, motley team he has been assigned. A veritable rainbow assemblage, they’re a plucky bunch from the wrong side of the tracks and regularly get slaughtered by their privileged, Teutonic rivals across the lake — the perennial champion Hawks.
Bombay’s not initially receptive to the Ducks’ problems — he once used to be a Hawk himself — but warms up to the notion of competition, namely sticking it to his arrogant ex-coach (Lane Smith), who still tyrannizes the Hawks with his perverted sense of sportsmanship. Eventually, Bombay even begins to thaw on the personal side, sympathizing with his team’s gutty, take-no-guff swagger.
Down to its story pads, Ducks is a personal comeback story iced around the competition of a hockey season and playoffs. While screenwriter Steven Brill deftly mixes in lessons of personal growth around a fight-for-the-championship structure. Ducks defies even “Do you believe in miracles?” hockey lore. While nicely layered with tough, conflicting personal questions, Ducks ultimately flaps off into easy outcomes and pat contrivances. Still it’s an overall charmer, and director Stephen Herek keeps it flying with a nifty mix of slapstick and action.
Estevez is well-cast as the ruthlessly competitive lawyer who learns humility and the true meaning of competition. Estevez’s performance, however, is erratic. Wonderfully plucky and vulnerable through most of the film, he loses steam in key climatic scenes, appearing listless and uninvolved. In his defense, one could easily become shell-shocked by the number of formulaic contrivances his character is rammed through; in particular, a romance with one of the Ducks’ mothers (Heidi Kling), a diner waitress, is unbelievably formulaic.
In supporting roles, Joss Ackland does a nice about-face from his bad-guy role in Lethal Weapon 2 and shines as an avuncular Scandinavian skate-shop owner, while Lane Smith is terrific as the Hawks martinet coach, a pip-squeak with a Lombardi complex.
Technical contributions are solid with costume designer Grania Preston, specially, delivering a spiffy assist for her plucky duds. — Duane Byrge, first published on Sept. 29, 1992
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