Before we get into this movie, a little background. More than any other sports movie, The Mighty Ducks franchise defined my childhood. We had all three movies on VHS, and I watched them more than any movie that didn’t start with Star. I watched them so often that I legitimately can’t stand “We Will Rock You” or “We Are the Champions” anymore because they’re played so often in that franchise. What I’m trying to tell you is that you’re not going to find anyone with more nostalgia for these movies than me.
And I gotta say, this movie is really pretty meh. It retreads the same formula we’ve seen in both Bad News Bears movies and in Hardball, though only the first of the Bears films came out before this one. We’ve got an alcoholic adult who has no business being a role model to children placed in the position of coaching a team that he wants nothing to do with because of other circumstances. This time, it’s because he’s a big-time lawyer who got caught drunk driving and big-time lawyers don’t go to jail; they do community service.
Lots of weird stuff stuck out as particularly weird to me as an adult that didn’t register to me as a child, too. There seemed to be no repercussions whatsoever for the rollerblading escapade through the mall. Somehow, Coach Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) was able to get his team out of detention despite having no affiliation with the school whatsoever. Also, what are the odds that almost everyone on the team would not only go to the same school but be in the same class?
There’s also a lot of logistical problems. The more obvious ones are that there’s no way the team would be allowed to play without real equipment; as the lowest-seeded team the Ducks should have faced the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, not the last; and if the final game is the state championship that means there are only 12 peewee hockey teams in the entire state of Minnesota. Charlie Conway’s (Joshua Jackson) mom (Heidi Kling) chews out Bombay for his recklessness and his initial attempts to convince the team to cheat but falls for him despite the two having very little screen time. It’s comical when she and Bombay argue late in the film about his intentions because she’s worried he’ll bail on her and hurt Charlie when both characters have far more on-screen chemistry with Charlie than each other.
The Mighty Ducks is only a 104-minute film, which means that many things don’t get as much time as they probably needed to develop more smoothly. To be fair, it’s a comedy, so the focus probably wasn’t on making every story beat as strong as it could be. But for all the things that were left on the cutting floor by necessity, we still were treated to a two-and-half minute poop prank and fast-forward chase scene.
But by far, the worst is Bombay’s boss, Mr. Duckworth (Josef Summer.) His boss is both unbelievable and entirely inconsistent as a character. No high-powered legal partner is going to care so much about a junior associate that he hires him a personal driver to chauffeur him while his license is suspended. Nor would he send him to coach a hockey team as a personal growth experience. Especially not a boss who later balks at the idea of spending money on those same kids for favorable publicity. And double-especially not a boss who would then fire one of his best lawyers because he wouldn’t back down over a peewee hockey league protest in which the firm isn’t even directly involved. Those last two things smack more of realism, but they’re entirely out-of-place for the kindly man we were introduced to at the beginning of the film.
Speaking of that protest, after watching three different movies where antagonists acted as rules lawyers who went against the spirit of youth sports to win, this time the rules lawyer is the good guy. For some reason, I was supposed to root for him as he tried to steal the best player from another team to help his own team. I didn’t buy it. It also happened so late in the movie that they couldn’t address any subtlety with the whole thing, so it ends up just being super awkward.
There are some good bits in the middle after Gordon learns to love hockey again where he spends some time actually teaching the kids some things that seem like they’d be useful for hockey players. I also really liked the scene where he showed up at Charlie’s apartment and apologized to Charlie and his mom. It’s an example of an excellent apology where he names the thing he did wrong and praises Charlie for standing up for what was right. (This made me all the more frustrated when Charlie, out of leftfield, asks Bombay to stay for dinner in a transparent bid to get him together with his mother.) Lane Smith is terrific as the “evil” Coach Reilly. He leaned into his role as a win-at-all-costs leader, and his signature move of popping his collar was incredibly entertaining to me for some reason.
Does this movie hold up? Not really. I suppose it might still appeal to grade school kids, but I had honestly hoped it would hold up better to a more refined palate. But the terrible slapstick, shortchanged plot, and last-minute conflict just can’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. Still, I remember preferring D2: The Mighty Ducks, anyway. I’ll probably watch that one and let you know if it does any better next week.