Review: Score: A Hockey Musical

This corny movie about Canada's national sport belongs in the penalty box

This corny movie about Canada's national sport belongs in the penalty box

Farley Gordon (Noah Reid, centre) and his teammates celebrate a victory in a scene from Score: A Hockey Musical. ((Ken Woroner/Mongrel Media) )

The posters for Score: A Hockey Musical describe the Canadian film as "Slap Shot meets Glee!" If only that were true. Score possesses neither the raunchy charm of the 1977 Paul Newman film nor the strong harmonizing of the hit Fox TV show. In fact, the project is marred by weak lyrics, even weaker melodies and a number of actors who probably shouldn’t be singing in public.

The plotline revolves around 17-year-old Farley Gordon (Noah Reid), a fresh-faced innocent who displays amazing scoring prowess in a regular neighbourhood pickup game. Although he’s never skated in an organized league — or, indeed, worn a jock strap — Farley is spotted by Brampton Blades owner Walt Acorn (Stephen McHattie) and given a junior tryout. He quickly becomes a star, scoring on a dazzling move only six seconds into his first match. 

There’s a major problem, though — the kid is a Gandhi-quoting pacifist, which doesn’t exactly mesh with the hyper-violent world he’s just entered. Called upon to fight, he commits the cardinal hockey sin of refusing to drop the gloves.

It’s a potentially cute premise. The never-ending tug of war between hockey artistry and fisticuffs is worthy of light satirical treatment, and Reid — looking like a slightly beefier version of Michael Cera — has a nice voice and a likeable screen presence.

But what’s a musical without catchy tunes? The original songs here aren’t exactly brimming with hooks, and campy lyrics that rhyme "baloney" with  "Zamboni" become grating after a while. Veteran musicians Olivia Newton-John and Marc Jordan, cast as Farley’s hockey-hating, New Age parents, don’t have a memorable melody between them.

Faring even worse musically are John Pyper-Ferguson, who plays Farley’s coach, and McHattie. Obviously, the idea is to have the rough-hewn hockey enthusiasts sing in a gruff manner. Mission accomplished. But they’re no fun to listen to.

An Italian lothario (Gianpaolo Venuta) sings a snippet of Dan Hill’s Sometimes When We Touch while trying to seduce Farley’s best friend, Eve (Allie MacDonald). It’s far and away the most tuneful moment in the movie, which makes one think that writer-director Michael McGowan, who also penned many of the lyrics here, should have embraced the Glee or Mamma Mia! model full-on and based his hockey musical on pre-existing CanCon classics.

Musicals are known for fanciful plots, but still, Score’s internal logic is somewhat flawed. Thanks to his newfound agent, Don Mohan (Brandon Firla, delightfully smarmy as always), Farley appears in a series of underwear ads and seems quite taken with all the free swag that comes his way as a star junior player. His embrace of sponsorship cash seems inconsistent, given his over-riding interest in maintaining the sport’s purity. 

Hope (Olivia Newton-John, left), Edgar (Marc Jordan) and Eve (Allie MacDonald) get caught up in the game. ((Ken Woroner/Mongrel Media) )
McGowan’s last feature was One Week, a cross-country odyssey that also embraced Canadian iconography. In Score, he ratchets up the Canuck quotient even further. How Canadian is this film? It kicks off with John McDermott singing O Canada on the soundtrack, accompanied by a decade-spanning montage of Canadians playing recreational hockey on frozen ponds and neighbourhood rinks.

Score features a number of distinctly Canuck cameos, which add a bit of energy to the proceedings. Walter Gretzky and Theo Fleury appear as themselves in a fantasy sequence; Nelly Furtado plays a crazed hockey fan; musicians Dave Bidini and Hawksley Workman are rink rats, George Stroumboulopoulos is on hand as a hockey play-by-play guy.

Given the immense challenges that homegrown films face in attracting English-Canadian audiences, making a pop musical about our national obsession is a clever idea. But McGowan seems more intent on creating a warm and fuzzy ode to our relationship with the sport than questioning or satirizing it in any serious way. That’s of course his prerogative, but Score: A Hockey Musical could have cranked up the irreverence, instead of being so damn hokey.

Score: A Hockey Musical opens on Oct. 22.

Greig Dymond writes about the arts for CBC News.