Taking a classic hockey tale and telling it with large dollops of broad-appeal comedy is a sure-fire recipe for scoring big-time in the Great White North, and that’s exactly the formula followed in “The Boys,” the first French-Canadian puck comedy. The story of a gang of ordinary guys who get their kicks by playing in an amateur hockey league, the French-lingo pic is a highly entertaining, mostly very funny effort that delivers the goods by keeping things simple and to the point.
Pic opened across Quebec Dec. 12 with a record-breaking weekend at the box office and, if it retains its strength over the holiday sea-son, it has a good shot at becoming the highest-grossing Quebec pic of all time. It will attract notice wherever hockey is hot, but this type of down-home French-Canadian humor doesn’t usually travel well; pic will certainly be a tough sell in non-French-speaking territories.
Though “The Boys” moves along at a good clip, there isn’t all that much in the way of plot development. Stan (Remy Girard) runs a blue-collar tavern, Chez Stan, and, on the side, coaches a hapless hockey team, Les Boys, manned by a bunch of bar regulars. The team includes a cross-section of ordinary guys united by their passion for Canada’s national sport. There’s promiscuous movie director Bob (Marc Messier), obnoxious cop Boisvert (Dominic Philie), fast-talking real-estate agent Ti-Guy (Patrick Huard), good-looking young mechanic Mario (Patrick Labbe), stoned-out hippie Julien (Roc Lafortune) and gay lawyer Jean-Charles (Yvan Ponton).
What little story there is revolves around Stan’s gambling debts. He loses all kinds of dough in a card game with seedy small-time mob boss Meo (Pierre Lebeau) and reluctantly agrees to settle his financial woes by playing a decisive hockey game pitting Les Boys against Meo’s team of burly thugs. The nefarious deal Meo strikes is that if Les Boys go down to defeat, Stan has to hand over his treasured bar to Meo. In vintage sports-pic fashion, “The Boys” climaxes with a long, dramatic game in which the underdogs manage — through a combination of luck, dirty tricks and sheer heart — to beat their tougher, more talented adversaries.
But the real fun comes from the lighthearted, comic portraits of the characters on the ragtag squad. Christian Fournier’s script contains a number of memorably hilarious scenes, notably an early one showcasing Ti-Guy’s loquacious skills as a condo salesman and most every scene featuring Julien’s drug-fueled presence. Helmer Louis Saia, whose first feature was the uneven “The Sphinx,” knows exactly how to keep the laughs flowing with almost no downtime and has crafted a warm, surprisingly touching profile of these sports fanatics.
The characters lean toward the one-dimensional, which leaves little room for the thesps to flex their muscles. But there are a couple of standouts, starting with standup-comic-turned-actor Huard, who steals the show as Ti-Guy, the real-estate agent who dreams of making hockey magic like former Montreal Canadiens superstar Guy Lafleur. Vet Girard is also strong as the browbeaten coach Stan, and Quebec sports commentator Paul Houde adds depth to the group with his portrayal of the melancholic goalie with a head full of old hockey statistics.
On-ice sequences are well handled, particularly the final game, and energy level of the whole outing is pumped up in a big, enjoyable way by the driving soundtrack, which is chock-full of old Quebec rock ‘n’ roll hits.