Gordon Bombay was a child hockey prodigy, with both the talent and ambition required to make it all the way. What he lacked, however, was the ability to thrive under the intense pressure applied by the coach of his team, Jack Riley (Lane Smith) of the The Hawks. After missing a vital shot (“You miss this shot; you’re not just letting me down, you’re letting your whole team down!”) and providing the Hawks with their only second place banner in history, Gordon gave up on the sport and became a successful lawyer, whose arrogance and underhand tactics were not overly appreciated by the courts or his company. When his latest case gets Gordon reprimanded he goes out drinking and gets himself arrested for driving under the influence. In order to keep the firm’s name from being dragged down with him, Gordon is instead sentenced to community service, teaching hockey to the local District 5 team, whose very first game happens to be against the Hawks, still coached by Jack Riley. Will Gordon learn to be a team player? Will his past love of hockey break through his frosty exterior? And will he be able to instil these hopeless kids into a formidable sporting team? It’s an early 90s kids sport film, what do you think?
I expected very little from this film going in. The fact that it stars Emilio Estevez as the adult Gordon Bombay didn’t exactly bode well, nor did its early 90s kids sports movie cheesiness. I assumed this wouldn’t be a film for me, but it’s notoriety meant that I should at least watch it at some point, and the fact that it’s set entirely in Minnesota made it a perfect fit for this project. As it stands, however, despite my hard bitten cynicism fighting the film almost the whole way through, with its beyond predictable plot, irritating children and over-use of heart-string tugging flashbacks, I kinda really liked this film. I found myself getting caught up in the plights of the rag-tag band of oddballs and misfits Gordon had to coach and willing them to pull it off and beat the Hawks – who, as the only other named team in the entire movie will of course face off in the final against District 9 (later renamed The Mighty Ducks after Gordon’s boss Mr. Ducksworth).
It’s schmaltzy, saccharine sweet and at times my eyes threatened to roll right back into my head, but still I really enjoyed it. I suppose this could be due to the fact that I don’t tend to watch too many sports film – especially ones heavily featuring youngsters – so the sheer abundance of clichés didn’t drown me as much as it might others (bear in mind this film sits at a meagre 12% on Rotten Tomatoes). There’s the kid with the over protective single mother (Joshua Jackson & Heidi King), the fat goalie scared of the puck (Shaun Weiss), the wannabe Corey Feldman (Matt Doherty) with his thick glasses and constant attempts at humor that never entertain and always, without exception, make me want to throttle him. Some of these kids weren’t given enough screen time – practically nothing was made of the team having a solitary female member, and the racism directed towards the two black kids (who along with a white one were labelled the team’s Oreo) kind of petered out. It retained the film’s light-hearted tone I suppose, but it really just set up antagonism then did very little with it. But something this film did really well was make me believe these were real kids playing. Yes, the Feldman-a-like was very, very annoying, but sometimes (most of the time, in my experience) so are kids! They often make poor decisions, mis-read situations and react poorly, so in that sense this film did very well.
An area it was severely let down in though was the flashbacks. The film is peppered with occasions when the adult Gordon recalls that fateful day when he cost the Hawks their first place banner, and every time we cut back to those moments, someone smears half a tub of Vaseline all over the lens so it looks like the whole scene takes place underwater. This was easily the cheesiest aspect of the entire film, and the fact that is was repeated so often made it worse every time. There were other issues I had with the film overall – not enough was done with the parents of the kids (we only ever see two of them), the symbolism is as subtle as a hockey puck with the evil Hawks clad in head-to-toe black, and there’s some valiant attempts to make this the new Goonies, right down to stealing their catchphrase (apparently Ducks never say “die” either). However, with all that in mind, this was still a thoroughly enjoyable film, that just happened to be utterly predictable in every single way, down to what will happen, when and to whom. I have no real intention of every tracking down the sequels – I hear even worse things about those – but I’m glad I saw this one.
Choose film 5/10