Men With Brooms

Men With Brooms, directed by Paul Gross; starring Paul Gross, Leslie Nielsen, Molly Parker, James Allodi, Peter Outerbridge and Jed Rees. Running time: 101 minutes. Coliseum Calgary, Crowfoot Crossing, Market Mall, Paramount Chinook, Plaza Theatre, SilverCity Country Hills, Sunridge Spectrum, Westhills; 14A (coarse language).

Rating: 4 out of five

Men With Brooms had every opportunity to be an absolute bust of a movie.

First off, it’s about curling, a game so slow at times that even many of the game’s own proponents scoff at it being labelled a sport.

Second, the movie stars Leslie Nielsen, who, since discovering a quarter-century ago that he was funny, has sprayed his overly dramatic, deadpan humour across silver screens like a hose left on all night. Sure, he was great in Airplane!, but wasn’t he also Mr. Magoo?

Men With Brooms could have been worse than bad. It could also have employed all those double-entendre curling phrases (Hard! On! Hard! On!) for cheap laughs. It could have preyed on the low-rent, blue-collar nationalist angle of the sport — curling, Tim Horton’s, that sort of thing — to give a chuckle at our expense to those few Americans who might accidentally pick it up in the Foreign Films section of their local video store (“Men With Brooms? Is this some gay bachelor film? I hope it’s not subtitled”).

Instead, actor-director-producer-writer-singer Paul Gross (Due South) has produced a well-crafted gem of a film, one that doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a romantic comedy with enough trace elements of drama and redemption to elevate it well above the level of a Caddyshack.

How did he do it? Curiously, by using the very things that could have relegated it to the heap of grade-B comedies.

The movie, in fact, employs the aforementioned curling terms to cheap advantage. Leslie Nielsen is, well, Leslie Nielsen. And the film is positively rife with Canadian stereotypes. Any foreigner who watches it is apt to conclude that beavers play a part in just about every waking moment of our lives.

Which, of course, is one of the intentions of the film. Like Airplane! — although a tad more gently — Men With Brooms goes so far over the top that it comes around, full circle, to being funny again. No one, it seems to be saying, laughs harder at Canadians than we do ourselves. And Men With Brooms is full of laughs, from clever, little sly ones to the big, fat and stupid.

Set in the fictional town of Long Bay, Ont. (think Sudbury), the film centres on Chris Cutter (Gross) and three estranged friends and curling teammates, Neil Bucyk, James Lennox and Eddie Strombeck (played by James Allodi, Peter Outerbridge and Jed Rees, respectively).

Cutter has returned to town after a 10-year absence to attend the funeral of his one-time friend and mentor, Coach Foley, who died retrieving the curling stones that Cutter inexplicably threw into Trout Lake shortly before leaving town (a departure, incidentally, that left Foley’s daughter, Julie (Michelle Nolden), standing alone at the altar . . . more on that later).

Coach’s cremated remains have been placed in one of the 42-pound rocks, and his videotaped last will and testament asks that Cutter’s old team re-assemble for one last crack at the Golden Broom, curling’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup.

And so they do, but discover along the way that they need some coaching.

Enter Gordon Cutter (Nielsen), Chris’s off-the-wall, magic mushroom-eating father. Between them, the pair have unresolved conflicts the size of Hudson’s Bay, but Gordon has curled in two Briers, and is, we’re to believe, their only hope.

Amid the on-ice search for atonement and closure, meanwhile, the light fandango is being tripped again between Chris and Julie, while Julie’s sister, Amy (Molly Parker), appears to be the one who should be in her shoes.

But never mind the love interest; frankly, it’s peripheral.

What really works for the film is that it has all the subtlety of a poutine-induced aneurism. Beavers, our national rodent, abound, from the tattoos on the men’s chests, through a mysteriously portentous highway gathering, to a background television appearance.

Cutter’s team trains by jogging up and down slag heaps. Their chief opponent in the bonspiel is a foursome that incorporates the gaudiest best from the worlds of glam-rock and wrestling, rolling them into a delightfully tasty silver-lameed Timbit of arrogance. And Leslie Nielsen is Leslie Nielsen, which in this case is wonderful.

Mirroring curling’s appeal to so-called “average” Canadians, Men With Brooms is a film for everybody, or at least anybody with a taste for the flat-out absurd. It’s the kind of film that makes you proud to be, well, not from somewhere else.