The Mighty Ducks

1992, Movie, PG, 100 mins


As sure as the next car payment is due or a new Michael Caine movie will be opening soon, Hollywood regularly mines the motherlode of hackneyed sports fantasies and produces vehicles like THE MIGHTY DUCKS, a streamlined, cliche-ridden underdog story that filled corporate coffers and wowed pre-schoolers who were too young to recognize hackwork.

Emilio Estevez stars as Gordon Bombay a brash, hotshot lawyer who, following his arrest on a drunk-driving charge, is given a leave of absence from his law firm by his boss Gerald Ducksworth (Josef Sommer) and sentenced to serve five hundred hours of community service coaching a hockey team consisting of a "pc" collection of pre-pubescent delinquents. At first Gordon, haunted by childhood memories of missing the final shot in a championship peewee hockey game, is less than enthusiastic about coaching the team ("I hate hockey and I hate kids," he declaims). But soon Gordon is redeemed, gaining the respect of the team, making them a hockey team to be reckoned with, and even succeeding is winning the peewee play-offs against his old team, the Hawks, and their cruelly badgering coach Reilly (Lane Smith). THE MIGHTY DUCKS ends with the team seeing Emilio Estevez off on a bus as he forsakes his career as a lawyer to try out for a position with a professional hockey team, his new love Casey (Heidi Kling) beaming as she sizes him up for the future.

THE MIGHTY DUCKS is the MacDonald's of popular movies. From the first scene (a flashback of Gordon losing the big game, shot in slow motion and a dream-like haze), the viewer knows exactly what he's getting, the only surprise being how utterly predictable it all is. The characters in the film might just as well not have proper names and instead opt for the D.W. Griffith brand of archetypal characters--Misunderstood Hero (Estevez), The Supportive Friend (Ackland), the Mean-Tempered Trainer (Smith), and, of course, The Dear One (Kling).

But it is not enough for THE MIGHTY DUCKS to celebrate its simplicity in concentrating on the underdog Ducks and their preordained success. Instead, the focus shifts to Gordon, jettisoning any attempt at creating distinctive members of the team, making the children faceless pawns in their coach's redemption. Unfortunately, Gordon's redemption is also by-the-book, this particular book being the textbook for Ganz and Mandell 101, in which an uninteresting and unappealing character is given intimations of a troubled past in lieu of any attempt at in-depth character development or emotional undertones. Steven Brill and Brian Hohlfield's flimsy screenplay puts a greater burden on the actors to carry the film. Unfortunately, the actors in THE MIGHTY DUCKS are as nondescript and interchangeable as their characters. Veterans Joss Ackland and Josef Sommer are left chewing whitebread with nothing to do and Emilio Estevez plays his role as if the actor himself was undergoing community service by appearing in the film.

Where the film does succeed is in director Stephen Herek's fast pace and upbeat tone, which manages to ride over most of the schmaltz and bathos. And Herek pumps up the peewee hockey games into a montage of cheers and slapshots that keeps the audience primed and charged (even taking a cue from Martin Scorcese in THE COLOR OF MONEY and Kevin Reynolds in ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES with a point-of-view shot of a spinning hockey puck slamming through the net backing of a goal).

THE MIGHTY DUCKS is harmless enough, but its schematic retread of a screenplay and its lethargic acting detracts from the unassuming, passable entertainment it might have been. leave a comment

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