Review: Breakaway

Posted: October 1, 2011 in Film Reviews
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A scene from BreakawayMuch like the sport itself, the hockey movie is a great North American pastime. Strangely though, there are many more films dropping the puck in “Canada’s game” south of the border. Breakaway, on the other hand, could not be more Canadian with its amateur hockey tournament that’s nearly as important as the Stanley Cup finals and multiculturalism that blends identities rather than replace them.

Like many young Canadians, Rajveer (Vinay Virmani) dreams of being a professional hockey player (chiefly for the Toronto Maple Leafs); but he’ll settle for defeating the reigning local champions and winning the Hyundai Cup. However, Raj faces an even greater battle with his traditional Sikh father who believes hockey is a waste of time and he should concentrate on the family business. Nonetheless, Raj rallies his Sikh teammates, recruits a former-pro coach (Rob Lowe) and sets out to make the Speedy Singhs (all with the last name Singh) winners.

This is your typical underdog story, but David is brown and Goliath is a bunch of prejudice guys on skates. It’s also an interracial love story and an ethnic comedy. Translation: it’s trying to be too many things and doesn’t present any of them especially well. The underdog story lacks the build up and heart that made audiences hope and cry with The Mighty Ducks; the romantic element lacks passion and chemistry; and the humour is mostly effective, but there’s also a lot of lame one-liners, such as “That’s two gloves to nothing.” The inclusion of Russell Peters is meant to be a comedic boost, but he primarily proves he plays a terrible drunk.

What Breakaway really needs is more hockey. A minute or two of highlights from each game – and none from a particularly important one – fails to create the emotional intensity associated with fans of the sport. Moreover, the problems that do arise inside and outside the rink are resolved far too easily. Robert Lieberman also directed the third instalment of The Mighty Ducks series, which to some extent suffered from some of the same issues. On the other hand, the incorporation of a Bollywood-style courting fantasy was an interesting first for the genre.

In addition to putting a spotlight on some of the integration issues immigrants face and the strains they place on families, it also provides a little cultural education. Most obviously there is a scene, cunningly made integral to the plot, which explains the history and significance of the turban worn by Sikh men. Less seriously, there are a number of Indian jokes (“They’re bigger; they’re stronger; they’re whiter.”) sprinkled throughout the script, as well as a cameo by Bollywood star Akshay Kumar.

Virmani is a relatively likable leading man, even though his character is sometimes selfish. Lowe is sort of the token American. He’s sincere and believable, but he still can’t infuse the hockey story with the passion it requires. Camilla Belle, Raj’s love interest, is fairly bland, making her character’s pursuits of human rights violations a little difficult to believe. Sadly, only a couple of the other actors are provided the opportunity to make an impression while the remaining players blend into the background.

The overall character and plot development are unfortunately weak, but according to filmmakers their goal was to create a feel good movie everyone could enjoy. At that they succeeded – on the surface at least.

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