It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Mystery, Alaska" is sweet, pleasant, low-key, inoffensive and unnecessary. It sticks up for underdogs, nice people and small towns, and doesn't like big corporations, adulterers, TV producers and New Yorkers in general. It contains not only a big game with a thrilling finish but also a courtroom scene, a funeral scene, an innocent teenage sex scene, a change-of-heart scene and a lot of scenery. No one falls through the ice and almost drowns, but we can't hope for everything.
The movie assembles a large cast in Mystery, Alaska, a fictional town where since time immemorial life has revolved around the Saturday Game, a hockey match played on black pond ice by local boys and men, who take it very seriously indeed. A former town resident (Hank Azaria) writes an article for Sports Illustrated about what fierce and brilliant hockey players they all are, and soon a sports network is promoting an exhibition game between the local team and the New York Rangers.
But this is not merely a hockey movie, leading up to the big game. It has many things on its mind. A foul-mouthed representative for a big retail chain comes to town and gets shot in the foot by a general store owner. The mayor's wife fools around with one of the hockey players. A veteran team member gets kicked upstairs to the coaching job to make room for a teenage phenom. There are scenes of young and middle-age love, visits from high-powered media stars and a drunken-driving scene involving a Zamboni.
So cluttered is the plot that Burt Reynolds, sporting a Mephistophelian beard and a black overcoat he didn't get from Eddie Bauer, plays not only the local judge but also a strict and troubled husband and father, a former hockey coach who returns to the job and a spoilsport who turns into a good guy. Since he gets only one big scene for some of these manifestations, the screenplay is like a test of versatility.