Someday, a creative filmmaker may make an involving movie on the unique sport of curling. “Men With Brooms,” however, is not that movie. Canuck pic slavishly traces the pattern of Brit comedies about cute, lovable working class underdogs reaching for one last, unlikely grasp at the prize. From the opening moments, there’s no question who will win (and who will win whose heart), and this leaden predictability, along with anultra-corny sense of humor, make for a wan romantic comedy. Backed by huge promo and wide release, “Men” opened last week to best ever B.O. numbers ($625,000) for an English-lingo Canadian release, pointing to likely broader international release, including Stateside. Numbers will shrink dramatically south of the border, though, where curling is, at best, a curiosity and, at worst, mildly mocked.
The conveyed passion for the sport by helmer/co-writer/star Paul Gross, plus references to all things Canadian, gives pic a much stronger scent of the maple leaf than the vast majority of Canuck productions. (The soundtrack even features a rock guitar version of “O Canada.”) This, plus pic’s already established hit status, will make the comedy a subject of national pride, even if the overall comedic and tech qualities are barely above TV level.
In the small mining town of Long Bay, vet curling player and coach Donald Foley (James B. Douglas) dies of a heart attack in the arms of daughter Amy (Molly Parker). Donald’s ultra-corn narration peppers rest of pic as, a la “Sunset Boulevard,” the dead man intros the Long Bay men whom he orders in his will to reunite as a curling team: handsome Chris Cutter (Gross), best pals with Amy and her astronaut sister Julie’s (Michelle Nolden) ex; ladies’ man James Lennox (Peter Outerbridge), whose squeeze-of-the-week is ditzy Joanne (Polly Shannon); Eddie Strombeck (Jed Rees), who’s desperately trying to make a baby with his wife Lilly (Jane Spidell); and Neil Bucyk (James Allodi), henpecked 24-7 by a cruelly stereotyped ice queen of a wife (Kari Matchett).
Donald’s other wish is for the reconstituted squad to win the coveted Golden Broom trophy (so-called for the “brooms,” or brushes, used in a brisk sweeping motion as the stone slides down the ice to the goal).
Strained antics in the funeral home are merely a precursor to the movie’s ineffective physical comedy in slightly crude Brit geezer vein. Perhaps to give an edge to the mild tone, Gross and co-writer John Krizanc drop in a load of unneeded expletives, along with a series of arch, faux-absurdist touches, from Chris’ reclusive dad Gordon (Leslie Nielsen) forcibly making one of his cows produce fertilizer to the team playing with a stone containing Donald’s ashes.
First half alternates between the team’s early struggles and the guys’ personal problems. Chris’ particular crises are uncomfortably contrived, including his legacy of cheating during games — a character flaw that feels utterly unconvincing in the hands of the true-blue, straight-arrow Gross, whose extremely bland thesping is unfortunately of a piece with the entire project.
Chris convinces his dad to coach the problem team. Nielsen, adopting a crustier, more backwoods form than usual, takes the men through paces that are assembled in a series of needlessly eccentric montages. Better structured is the Golden Broom contest itself, during which the filmmakers labor to inject some excitement into curling, although most viewers unacquainted with the Scottish-born sport will mostly agree with Joanne: “It looks like shuffleboard.”
As the two sisters, Parker and Nolden handily carry much of pic’s heavy dramatic lifting. Thesps work their way through script’s numerous “meaningful relationship” scenes like pros, but hardly distract from the dulldialogue.
Despite a northerly rural setting, pic’s visuals aren’t especially resplendent. Hackneyed comedy music mars the soundtrack from start to finish, accented by an especially off-putting and pointless singing male chorus ditty. In contrast to the dazzling running animal jokes in “The Ice Age,” a repeated gag here with beavers goes nowhere.