The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘The Mighty Ducks’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “The Mighty Ducks.”

The info:

The Movie: “The Mighty Ducks”

Starring:  Emilio Estevez, Joss Ackland, Lane Smith

Director: Stephen Herek

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A self-centered lawyer is sentenced to community service coaching a rag-tag youth hockey team.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 15 percent

Our take:

Brown: I’m still trying to get over last week’s foray into “Twilight,” a world full of sparkly vampires and vacant emotions. This week, instead of extracting my revenge on Froemming, I wanted to go to the magical world of Disney® without a bunch of newsies singing and pushing their Communist agenda.

So that brought us to “The Mighty Ducks.” And when you see mouth breathing in this, compared to “Twilight,” it’s because kids are being active and playing sports. Emoting. ACTING!

And because I wanted a little revenge, I remembered how much Froemming doesn’t like hockey. It all came together, folks.

So Froemming, before we cover this comeback story of a drunk hot-shot lawyer, how was your trip down to the magical made-up land of Minneapolis?

Froemming: I remember watching this movie as a little kid and it inspired to me want to try hockey. I watched it in the summer, so I laced up the old rollerblades and grabbed my brother’s hockey stick and gave it a whirl on the streets.

I fell on my ass immediately and vowed to one day end this stupid sport called “hockey.”

There is another connection with this movie for me. The opening scenes at the courthouse where filmed in my hometown of St. Cloud. (REDACTED) you for reminding me of that town, Brown. As I collect myself from this seething rage you instilled into me, why don’t you start us off on the film.

Brown: Well, this movie begins in the whimsical world of flashback land. Except, this isn’t exactly a happy memory as we see a little kid being told by his coach that if he misses his shot, he’s letting down the coach and his whole team. We’ll have elaboration on that later.

So young Gordon Bombay takes to center ice for a penalty shot in the state pee-wee championships. How do we know this? Because there is a (REDACTED) radio broadcast of the Minnesota state pee-wee championship. Now, I know Minnesota loves its hockey and the state tournament sells out a 20,000-seat arena, but no one is going to broadcast the (REDACTED) pee-wee championship.

Going against Duluth East (which used the right color scheme for the opponent. Nice touch) Bombay’s shot goes off the post. No goal.

One thing that bugged me: Did the people at this rink not pay the electric bill or something? The entire arena is blacked out, save for a spotlight on Bombay and the Duluth East goalie. You have money to pay your electric bill with a sold-out crowd for pee-wee hockey. Unless flashback land involves only spotlights, the pee-wee championships should have used a different arena.

Froemming: Well, after we see Gordon let down everyone important to him in life as a little child, we are then introduced to Gordon (Estevez) as a hot-shot attorney in Minneapolis, who hasn’t lost a case and inspires hatred from his colleagues and the judges in his life for his extreme smugness.

Brown: A Sheen smug? Surely you jest.

Froemming: I don’t, and don’t call me Shirley.

Anyway, Gordon wins a big case and goes out to celebrate. Alone. In his car. With a bottle of booze. Gordon is an alcoholic with childhood trauma from losing that stupid game all those years ago.

With his job (which is the only thing in his life worth a damn) on the line, his boss cuts a deal with the judge that he do community service and take a paid hiatus from his job. The community service? A cruel twist of fate that digs the sharp knife of failure further into his spine of self-confidence as he is to coach some young kids in pee-wee hockey.

Brown: Gordon Bombay was drinking while driving and sports a car with the license plate “JUSTWIN.” He deserves what he gets, cocky bastard.

And what kind of kids will Bombay have to build up? Why, the kind that feed a dog chili, wait for the dog to poop and put said poop in a purse to get some cheap laughs at a stranger. So, you know, winners! I’m glad Nintendo kept me preoccupied as a youth to where I played with poop as a means of entertainment.

Froemming: The early 90s were a wild time for poop-gags.

Brown: As Frank Reynolds once said, poop is funny.

ANYWAYS, Bombay meets his new team, and things don’t go exactly smooth. They first think he’s trying to deal drugs to them. And then when he finally sees what kind of skill they actually have… there is none. Hell, the goalie, the delightfully chubby Goldberg, says it’s stupid to actively get hit by pucks. I mean, he has a point.

Maybe the worst of all, the nerdy Averman does a Rob Schneider “Makin’ Copies” impression from “Saturday Night Live” MULTIPLE times throughout the movie. Why can’t he play goalie, ideally without the mask.

Froemming: And because every group of friends has that helicopter mom lurking in the shadows waiting to ruin everyone’s fun, Charlie Conway’s mom busts into the limo and berates Gordon for putting her child in danger. Which I found odd because it looked like they were practicing on one of those man-made ponds that are about a foot deep.

Now, Gordon doesn’t teach these kids anything and they go into their first game with their new coach (their previous coach died of a heart attack, probably choosing the sweet relief of death over hearing Averman do another “Makin’ Copies” impersonation). And Gordon runs into his old coach, Jack Reilly.

Now, you know this guy is an bad hombre because he pops his coat collar. History has proven time and time again that if you pop your collar, you are on the wrong side of it. You are probably the next Hitler with that popped collar.

Brown: The warmups for this District 5 v. Hawks matchup is the Hawks doing what looked like a choreographed routine to both get ready for the game and intimidate their clearly-overmatched opponents. Folks, I’ve been covering sports for almost 10 years now… hockey teams don’t do such a routine. But, Disney, whatever.

What I do enjoy from a movie-making standpoint is this movie does make Bombay a sympathetic character while reuniting with Reilly. We find out with one comment that Reilly was like a father figure to him: “Sorry your dad couldn’t make it.” We later find out Bombay’s dad died, but we see why missing that shot and letting Reilly down really did affect Bombay.

One final thing: In the opening faceoff, two black kids and a white kid are on the first line for District 5. A Hawks player called them an Oreo. Oh casual ‘90s racism, I don’t miss you.

Froemming: Well, they get the whoopin’ on the ice they deserve for not practicing. More time training, less time perfecting Rob Schneider impersonations. Gordon, for some reason, loses his cool and yells about how they didn’t listen to him.

Brown: Umm, Froemming, this guy has a license plate that says “JUSTWIN.” What would you expect?

Froemming: You don’t put in the effort, you don’t win the games. It is Winning 101 taught by Emilio’s brother Charlie. Also, something about Tiger Blood….Whatever, this is a stale joke.

Gordon sees an old man he recognizes leaving the game. This is Hans, a weird old German man who has a business where he sells hockey gear and was another father figure for Gordon as a child.

Now, I am going to drop a truth bomb here people. If you are a 30-plus year old man who is still traumatized by a pee-wee hockey game you blew at the age of 11, you need some serious therapy because that is not normal.

Brown: Look man, I’m not ready for “The Mighty Ducks” to become like an episode of “Diff’rent Strokes.”

Briefly before returning to Hans/Gordon: We have a fight between a couple of the District 5 players against some Hawks, with hot-shot Adam Banks in tow. And these kids rollerblade in from some affluent part of the city or outside of it (I figure Edina) to talk (REDACTED) to the team they just beat by double digits. Kids won’t rollerblade that far out for that.

Froemming: They are mockingly called “cake eaters,” of course they are from Edina.

Brown: For their trouble, they get a nice intimidatin’ from Foggy Nelson from “Daredevil” a mammoth kid named Fulton Reed who everyone thinks is a pre-teen with a football scholarship. Look, basketball kids get recruited that early at times. Not football players.

Now, back to Hans and Gordon. Hans drops some BS fact about Gordon scoring 198 goals in one pee-wee season. Points, I’d maybe buy (goals plus assists), but goals?! In what, 30 games, if that? That’s …

Impossible.

Froemming: I am not a sports guy and I even found that number questionable.

Brown: We get a speech about playing for the love of the game, a brief moment of Gordon skating on a pond and we are led to believe that one moment of contemplation changes a man. Yeah, no.

Froemming: Gordon also gets his boss to sponsor the team. And since scriptwriters are notoriously lazy with these things, Gordon’s boss had to have the word “duck” in his name. So, Mr. Ducksworth throws about $13,000 toward hockey gear for these kids. That amount of money was what I paid for one year of tuition at St. Cloud State 14 years after this movie came out. In short, that is a lot of money to throw at a bunch of schmucks who can barely skate.

Brown: That number wasn’t that baffling to me. Hockey is an expensive sport. And here’s why I think that’s a fairly accurate number: Gordon tells Mr. Ducksworth that these kids are using issues of the newspaper as pads.

This begs the question: How are the parents not suing the pee-wee hockey association for allowing their kids onto the ice without proper pads?! They are letting these kids play an organized sport ill-equipped. That is the most (REDACTED)-up part of the movie. Aside from Fulton Reed becoming the chubby best friend of Matt Murdock.

Froemming: At least print media still had a function in 1992.

Brown: Truly a golden age.

So, we see the reformed Coach Bombay work to improve the skill of his players with egg passes and skating drills. And, he also ties his goalie to the net and makes him take shots from everyone like some ‘30s firing squad gunning down someone for bootleggin’. Responsible adults do not exist in this made-up land of Minneapolis.

Froemming: Actually, this made-up Minneapolis doesn’t seem to far from the real thing to me.

Anyway, aside from Minneapolis being a dumpster fire of hipsters and sadness, Bombay shows the kids their new team name: The Mighty Ducks! And, the kids are rightfully baffled by the name. On the plus side, we get to see Emilio Estevez quack and shake his arms like a duck to inspire confidence in their stupid new team name.

But it wouldn’t be a Disney movie without a love story shoehorned into it for no real reason. So, we get Charlie really pushing his mom onto Gordon. Almost creepily so at times.

Brown: We also get Fulton Reed to join the hockey team with his slap shot that would probably kill someone. These kids are 11 and 12, by the way. Bombay also recruits a couple of figure-skating siblings who do absolutely nothing until the final game of the year. I honestly forgot they were in the movie.

Froemming: I want to point out that Fulton’s powers and weaknesses are identical to Happy Gilmore’s, and that movie came out four or five years after this. I’m not mad, because “Happy Gilmore” is one of my favorite sports comedies, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point this out. Both have super strength hitting the puck. Both can’t skate. Both break the plexi glass and shatter it with their powerful, yet aimless, slap shot abilities.

Brown: And in Fulton’s first game as a Duck, they use him as a decoy. After freaking out the other team with a glass-cracking slap shot, the Ducks use that fear to get an easy game-winning goal to get their first win (and make the cover of the real-life Let’s Play Hockey newspaper. Nope. Wouldn’t happen).

Trickery got the Ducks a win. Thievery will get them more. Turns out, thanks to a revelation from Hans, that Adam Banks doesn’t live in the Hawks’ district. His residence of 450 North Hennepin Ave. is in Ducks territory. He should be playing for District 5.

I bring up the actual address for a reason. Thanks to Google Maps, I looked up the Banks’ address (assuming it was Minneapolis). And… that is not a residential area, unless the Banks family lived above the current-day Brass Rail Lounge or Sneaky Pete’s or The Pourhouse. His neighbors were the Gay 90’s nightclub and Augie’s Cabaret.

Nice try, movie. Try doing your research next time.

Froemming: Like Coach Reilly didn’t foresee Gordon stealing his player, the filmmakers didn’t foresee the almighty power of Google that would one day poke holes into their film.

But like Ron Swanson once opined, capitalism shows who is smart and who is poor and Reilly goes for the jugular by making a deal with Mr. Ducksworth by having Adam still be a Hawk and Gordon can keep his job (there was more to it, but this is the gist). But Gordon chooses a pee-wee hockey team he uses to remedy his psychological scars over his probably six-figure income and life as he knew it.

Brown: Reilly’s life revolves around pee-wee hockey. How empty an existence must that be? He’s willing to (I assume) skip a day at work and stab a former protege in the back to make sure he gets another pee-wee state title? Did he ever have a failed stint as a high-school coach or at some other level? Or, did he just stay with his destiny as a pee-wee coach and cry/drink himself to sleep every night because the only thing he’s shown aptitude in is directing a bunch of pre-teens?

Really, I don’t hate Reilly, I just feel sorry for him.

Froemming: Nah, with that popped collar, he is history’s greatest monster. We went over this.

So now the Mighty Ducks have a jobless coach and a cake eater on their side as they head into a crucial match that will decide if they head into the championship or not.

Brown: Well, there is a moment where there is dissention in the ranks after a couple players quit when they hear Bombay say sarcastically that the Ducks players should die while in the midst of an argument with Reilly at the rink. Without players, the Ducks have to forfeit a game.

After Bombay gets fired, he heads to the school where his players attend and see them all in detention after, and this actually happened, quacking at the principal. My face hurts after I just rolled my eyes there. Anywho, this jobless man who is only coaching these children because he’s an arrogant drunk wins the kids’ trust back. They need a win to get into the playoffs, after all.

Another quick moment that shows the filmmakers didn’t do research: There is a part when Bombay takes the kids over to the old Met Center to skate around on the home of the Minnesota North Stars. While the North Stars players leave the ice, players Basil McRae and future hall-of-famer Mike Modono talk to the kids. McRae makes mention of knowing Bombay from their pee-wee days. False. McRae’s from Canada. Unless his family moved for a few years to Minnesota, McRae and Bombay never, ever came across one another.

Back to you, Froemming.

Froemming: They didn’t go into detail of McRae’s life here, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise how would he recognize Bombay? Let’s not overthink “The Mighty Ducks” on that part.

Brown: It’s not overthinking. It’s lazy that they can’t look up the player bios and find someone who was an American. Hell, Mike Modono is American, why not use him for the speaking role?

Froemming: I have no idea who any of these people are, and I don’t care for their origin stories.

Well, they do win the game to get into the championship. It should also be noted that Adam “Cake Eater” Banks joins the Ducks because he is the only sane person in this world and just wants to play hockey, not get into Machiavellian schemes to thwart the other team for the gold.

Now, as they start the championship game where two full-grown adults’ egos and pride are on the line over a pee-wee hockey game, Adam is targeted by the Hawks because they see him as a traitor. I think the players and coaches all need a (REDACTED) time out to collect themselves because this is insanity.

Brown: Two kids on the team are told to take Banks out from Coach Reilly. It’s the ice hockey equivalent of “Sweep the leg, Johnny.”

And somehow, the kid who takes Banks out get just a two-minute minor for cross-checking. That kid put him out after a goal. It should have been a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind.

But even without the most skilled player (by a country mile), the Ducks stick with the Hawks, tying the game up with the most ludicrous thing in sports movies: The flying V. Because we have to use an actual duck thing, the players skate up ice in a V. This would be incredibly easy to defend… the front player HAS to have the puck as he crosses the blue line. So, attack the head guy as they near the offensive zone. Done. Breakaway attempt. Goal. Hawks win.

But nope, Reilly can’t coach against something so damn simple. This is why he never went beyond pee-wee coaching.

Froemming: I have no idea what the (REDACTED) you’re talking about because I hate sports.

Brown: But you love sports movies, as evident with Sports Month last summer. Isn’t it ironic?

Froemming: 

But Charlie gets hit at the end of the tied game, and finds himself in a position much like Bombay was at his age: Make the game-winning goal or live a life of tortured memories and be a bitter drunken attorney. The stakes for Charlie have never been higher.

Brown: But, Bombay is not about to become another Reilly. He tells Charlie that he has faith in Charlie and it doesn’t matter if he makes the shot or not. Then, he tells Charlie to use the triple deke that he’s been practicing. Wait, he’s been practicing that? Also, the triple deke is (REDACTED), but I don’t want to hurt Froemming’s brain more, so I’ll move on.

In typical sports movie fashion, Charlie dekes out the goalie and gets a wide-open shot. GOAL! The Ducks knock off the Hawks and the radio guy is freaking out. NO RADIO GUY WOULD EVER BE AT A PEE-WEE HOCKEY GAME.

Froemming: But the Ducks got that centerpiece treatment in that hockey magazine numerous times! It stands to reason if some crummy pee-wee hockey team gets that kind of ink, there would be a radio guy covering their games, right?

Brown: If Let’s Play Hockey was printing centerpiece stories on pee-wee hockey on a weekly basis, that is exhibit A of why print media is failing nowadays.

After a heartfelt moment between Bombay and Hans, we see Gordon packed up and ready for a minor-league tryout thanks to his ol’ buddy McRae (again, he couldn’t have played pee-wee hockey with him). Also, Bombay is probably in his 30s and hasn’t played hockey since he was a pre-teen. I don’t think he’s set up for success.

Then, after he gets farewells from his players and a kiss from Charlie’s mom, he tells the kids he’ll return next year to defend their title.

OK, lets say the improbable happens and Gordon makes the minors, that would overlap with the Ducks’ next season. Basically, he’s hoping his minor-league career crashes and burns.

Like my friend Chris has said over and over about this movie, the moral of this movie is this: People who have DUIs are winners.

Froemming: Or he is just lying to them because he has been a lawyer for so long that the truth is no longer with him.

I say we form a flying V and head on down to recommendations.

Would you recommend?

Brown: It’s easy to rag on a Disney family movie, but I’d absolutely recommend this movie. It’s good fun and it’s still entertaining to me as a grown-ass adult.

Froemming: It is a harmless kid hockey movie. I probably enjoyed it more having part of it filmed in my hometown and all of it filmed in my home state, as well as having fond memories of watching it as a child. But I enjoyed it for what it is. I say give it a watch.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: