**½/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras C
starring Paul Gross, Molly Parker, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Outerbridge
written and directed by Paul Gross
by Walter Chaw Closer in spirit to Mystery, Alaska than to the similarly Olympics-inspired Cool Runnings, Men with Brooms is an underdog sports intrigue mashed together with a bedroom farce--and neither dog-eared formula is handled with very much originality, while uncomfortable subplots concerning adultery, alcoholism, and healing father/son rifts (see also Hoosiers) vie for a level of pathos that always feels out of place in what is essentially The Bad News Bears (or The Replacements, or Slap Shot) for curling. Though it's extremely tempting to lay out an endless stream of titles for films that are essentially identical to Men with Brooms, time is better served just saying that the picture, the directorial debut of Canuck star Paul Gross, is a low-aspiring bit of nonsense that fits as comfortably as a cozy pair of ratty sneakers while stinking a little all the same.
Chris (Gross) returns to the hamlet he left in disgrace years previous, abandoning his team and fiancé alike when the guilt of cheating in a major bonspiel (that's "curling match" for us lower 48ers, eh) drove him into exile. Returning on the eve of the Golden Broom tournament, Chris is forced to confront the demons of his past in the form of his teammates (mortician Neil (James Allodi), madcap James (Peter Outerbridge), and infertile Eddie (Jed Rees)); his ex-fiancé and astronaut (yes, astronaut) Julie (Michelle Nolden) and Julie's alcoholic sister, Amy (Molly Parker); and, of course, his estranged father Gordon (Leslie Nielson), a legendary curler-turned-cow pie harvester just itching for a team of underachieving galoots to whip into shape with a musical montage or three.
As unabashedly patriotic a film as I've seen from the Great White North, the strength of Men with Brooms is that it understands where its loyalties lie--the only Yank representation in the piece comes in the form of two bungling "ASA" (NASA without the "N") officials who provide the occasional look of befuddlement and dimwit comment. The picture's first half given over to establishing the various clichés to be knocked off with over-scored pocket epiphanies in its second half, Men with Brooms is Swiss clockwork in its machinations and, in truth, there's something to be said for films so free of pretension: chicken soup for the soul in cinematic form.
Overstaying its welcome by at least one subplot too many, Men with Brooms, with its all-Canadian cast and a soundtrack by The Tragically Hip, is a cozily jingoistic populist uplift piece that pokes fun at Canada's perceived provincialism while extolling the country's pride as well. (A bagpiped "O' Canada" is hilariously balanced between both.) Predictably ending with a series of kisses and medal presentations (and those never-tedious outtakes), Men with Brooms' only claim to distinction is its dedication to its setting and like (the superior) The Rookie earlier this year, scores a few points for doing what it does with a dedicated and good-hearted professionalism. Originally published: March 8, 2002.
by Bill Chambers Artisan presents the Alliance-Atlantis production Men with Brooms on DVD in an adequate 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Skin tones lack contrast in the opening scene, as though we're seeing digital flesh, but it's an isolated incident; if the film continues to seem a tad bland thereafter, with soft focus and drab colours, such is the nature of Thom Best's cinematography. English and French-dub 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes allow the music (including a number of songs by The Tragically Hip) warmth and add dimension to the curling matches by exaggerating the resonance of rocks gliding across ice. The surround channels are rarely called to arms. The smug yet likable Paul Gross is interviewed in a 5-minute supplemental piece during which he discusses growing up an army brat, early experiences in theatre (very early--a summer spent working the ticket booth at Stratford), and his "Due South" days. A making-of featurette (5 mins.) of the electronic press-kit variety and the film's Canadian theatrical trailer--letterboxed, oddly, to 2.35:1--round out the disc, whose layer change is quite possibly the worst on record, interrupting a sports commentator in the middle of a word. Originally published: October 17, 2002.