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Mighty Ducks, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Second-Rate Children's 'Slap Shot'"
2 stars

By-the-numbers and lackluster, it's generic enough to probably please the undemanding, popcorn-munching mainstream.

Emilio Estevez is far too talented an actor to be wasting his time picking up an easy paycheck in the formulaic children’s-hockey movie The Mighty Ducks. Estevez struck me as the standout among the ’80s Brat Pack (consisting of Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore and Judd Nelson), and if you saw his performances as the conflicted wrestling student in The Breakfast Club, the juvenile delinquent in That Was Then…This is Now, the hell-raising Billy the Kid in Young Guns, Richard Dreyfuss’s police partner in Stakeout, the unstable, recently-returned Vietnam veteran in The War at Home, you saw he could be a tremendous actor. And he ambitiously ventured into writing and directing projects he could star in, and though the 1987 drama Wisdom was abysmal, the fine 1990 comedy Men at Work demonstrated deftness for setting up a gag and technical proficiency. So it’s all the more disappointing that The Mighty Ducks is such forgettable, by-the-numbers stuff. Starring as Minneapolis corporate attorney Gordon Bombay, Estevez gets the right amount of cocky smugness into his initially-abrasive character (as the movie opens, he ruthlessly decimates an elderly-woman plaintiff in open court), but, as is later revealed, he was a once-promising young-teenage hockey player in the Pee Wee league who missed a crucial goal in a playoff game that wound up sapping his confidence and rendering him a failure in both his and his unforgiving coach’s eyes. He hasn’t put on the skates since, but after being arrested for drunken driving, and potentially shaming his employer’s name in court should it go to trial, Gordon is given the opportunity for a dismissed case if he takes a paid leave of absence from the law firm and does community service coaching in that very same Pee Wee league for a disorganized team of social misfits who haven’t scored a single goal and whose opponents have managed to rack up record scores. Dismally-funded, the team doesn’t even have jerseys, with football helmets for headwear and magazine rolls for padding; and the uncommitted Gordon doesn’t help his case any by showing up for the first outdoor practice in his employer’s limousine in a fancy suit and cashmere coat. He’s regarded as a “cake eater” (i.e. privileged) by these urban street kids, and at first Gordon refuses to offer much in the way of tutelage, instead choosing to spend most of the time on his cell phone. Predictably, he soon starts taking things seriously and imparts his vast knowledge and techniques of the game onto the players (including substituting eggs for pucks to get them to pass fluidly and accurately), and, unsurprisingly, the team’s play immeasurably improves. In fact, not only do they start racking up non-losses but find themselves in the playoffs and facing the acme of the league, the Hawks, the very same team the younger Gordon played for that’s still being coached by the very same it-only-matters-if-you-win martinet. In terms of inventive plotting and character development, the movie racks up a score of damn near zero with more than a few minutes in the penalty box.

In case you haven’t surmised by now, The Mighty Ducks is a blatant knockoff of the witty 1976 youth-baseball comedy The Bad News Bears minus the indelible star performance Walter Matthau gave as the crusty, boilermaker-swilling coach and such gut-funny lines of the politically-incorrect vein of “Jews, spics, niggers -- now girls!” Square and schematic, the movie doesn’t offer so much as a smidgen of originality, which I’m sure will be perfectly fine with mainstream-audience parents looking for nothing more demanding than a by-the-book cinematic endeavor to take their kids to, but it’s quite the chore for non-kids to sit through akin to oxygen-deprivation. There are bottom-barrel flatulence jokes and name-callings like “wuss-breath” to keep the young’uns sated, and every predictable story development happens right on cue so one needn’t break a sweat over any semblances of inventiveness figuring their way into the proceedings. As the Ducks get better as a team, Gordon improves as a human being by taking a caring interest in the lives of one particular player and romancing his waitress-working divorced mother -- naturally, she’s plain-looking and blue-collar, so, in the moviemakers’ eyes, this means she’s “real” as opposed to the upper-income-bracket, svelte-dressed Gordon before he finally decides to forsake wealth to chase his dream career. (If the movies had their way, the lawyer profession would have the highest turnover rate in the country!) That fine character actor Lane Smith plays Gordon’s former junior-league coach, who serves as a one-dimensional villain, and Joss Ackland, the lead villain in Lethal Weapon 2, is atypically cast as a soulful hockey-equipment salesman who recognized Gordon’s potential back in the day and is never short of words in offering Gordon groan-inducing worldly advice. Ultimately, the message of the movie is “have fun in sports rather than being obsessive about winning,” which as no fewer than five people on the planet will not confuse with anything even remotely profound. The screenplay is a shambles, yes (a debut effort by the second-rate actor Steven Brill), but perhaps a director who was willing to shake things up and lend some alacrity could’ve helped, but Stephen Herek, who showed some talent with the cult classic Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, goes about things in the most rudimentary way, never failing to point up a cliché or giving a scene some fresh spin; and since the mediocre hockey sequences haven’t a quarter the vitality that, say, Slap Shot had, there’s very little for the movie to fall back on. Sure, there’s Estevez, but when he takes on an inadequate role, like the obsessive romantic in St. Elmo’s Fire or race-car driver in Freejack, he can come off meek and underwhelming; while considerably preferable to his lackluster sibling Charlie Sheen, Estevez hasn’t the ability to make more of a role than what’s been written, so without any interesting facets in Gordon to explore he’s left as vulnerable as the other cast members with practically nothing to do. The Mighty Ducks isn’t terrible, but it is terribly bland; it practically evaporates from your mind before even the closing credits have finished rolling.

Also beware of the sequels this spawned.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=28816&reviewer=327
originally posted: 04/03/15 01:30:19
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USA
  02-Oct-1992 (PG)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Stephen Herek

Written by
  Steven Brill

Cast
  Emilio Estevez
  Joss Ackland
  Lane Smith
  Heidi Kling
  Josef Sommer



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