Score: A Hockey Musical -- Film Review



Follow the bouncing puck!

A warm, irreverent and irresistibly goofy love letter to Canada's national pastime, "Score: A Hockey Musical" pretty much says it all, serving up singing-and-dancing hockey players, gentle satire and even musical icon Olivia Newton-John, in one unapologetically pleasant package.

It also never really makes it out of the minor leagues, despite exhibiting the early potential to go on to greater things.

The feel-good effect was still sufficient to energize opening night TIFF audiences, and there's an obvious home ice advantage where Canadian box office (it's slated to open Oct. 22 through Mongrel Media) is concerned.

But its away game is a much tougher call -- it remains to be seen how well all those indigenous references travel, even with the presence of its goodwill ambassador, Ms. Newton-John.

Using the tried and true "teen [insert sport here]-player becomes overnight sensation" as his inspired leap-off point, writer-director Michael McGowan ("Saint Ralph") relates the story of a fresh-faced kid (Noah Reid) who becomes an unlikely candidate for phenom-dom.

A pacifist geek raised by his intellectual tree-hugging parents (Newton-John and Canadian singer-songwriter Marc Jordan), 17-year-old Farley Gordon leads a sheltered existence hanging out with his platonic (in his oblivious eyes, anyway) pal Eve (Allie McDonald).

That is, until the day he's spotted playing outdoor hockey with the local rink rats by the legally blind owner of a junior team (Stephen McHattie), and, defying all odds, his enviable stick-handling skills quickly make him the Brampton Blades' MVP.

The media frenzy and flurry of endorsements follow closely behind, but it's only a matter of time before Farley's philosophical aversion to fighting makes him a contentious role model.

With the likes of the Barenaked Ladies and Hawksley Workman putting McGowan's quaintly clunky lyrics to music (sample verse: "Could this really be happening to me?/I'm becoming part of a larger entity."), the sweet-voiced young leads set the tone, which is more operatic in style as opposed having the dialogue stopping cold as the cast bursts into song.

It's more like "Rent" with shin guards.

But while there are ample instances of self-effacing fun and amusing cameos from the likes of Nelly Furtado and Wayne Gretzky's dad, Walter, the film ends up playing like a hockey team that scores all its goals in the first period and then is content to coast for the other two.

With all the assembled musical talent and choreographer Amy Wright's fancy footwork, you keep expecting this amiable underachiever to eventually rise to a loftier occasion, just like you're hoping Newton-John might at some point turf her duet partner and deliver a "Grease-type" (or at least "Xanadu-type") showstopper.

Better to leave any expectations on the sidelines.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Mongrel Media - Canada)
Production companies: Mulmur Feed Co.
Cast: Noah Reid, Allie MacDonald, Olivia Newton-John
Director-screenwriter: Michael McGowan
Executive producers: Richard Hanet, Jody Colero
Producers: Michael McGowan, Avi Federgreen
Director of photography: Rudolf Blahacek
Production designer: Tamara Deverell
Music: Jonathan Goldsmith
Costume designer: Patrick Antosh
Editor: Roderick Deogrades
Rating: Not yet rated, 92 minutes