Deep in the heart of the Canadian film industry burns a desire for the Hockey Movie, the one that will put the puck into the artistic net and score a commercial victory that will bring both fans and critics to their feet. After Score: The Hockey Musical failed to bring home the cup last season, here comes another eager entry with chances that once again look about as sure-fire as the Leafs’.
Breakaway’s shtick is ethnic – this is the Sikh hockey movie – and it uses the all-Canadian sport as its source of generational conflict between the immigrant father and the native-born son, but it lacks the focus and charm to make it the next Bend It Like Beckham.
With a script credited to five writers including its star Vinay Virmani, it is a movie that keeps skating madly off in different directions and desperately needs more coaching than director Robert Lieberman provides. As well as the father-son conflict, its many well-worn plot lines include the heartwarming story of the veteran coach who takes on a team of underdog rookies, a cross-cultural romance, an ethnic wedding comedy and a human-rights crusade. Throw in a few Bollywood dance numbers, and you have a mess.
Virmani plays Rajveer Singh, a young Sikh caught between his love of the game, played with a crew of Indo-Canadian street-hockey enthusiasts, and his duty towards the dictatorial father (the Indian actor Anupam Kher) who insists they put their noses to the grindstone, working as drivers for a wealthy uncle’s trucking company. With the help of coach Dan Winters (Rob Lowe), the local arena manager who just happens to have played one season in the NHL, Rajveer rallies his community around the idea of a Sikh team. But he still has to hide his hockey from his dad.
Meanwhile, he is falling for the coach’s sister, a law student ready to defend the turbaned players’ right to refuse helmets. And, over in the Sikh community, his beautiful cousin is about to marry an obnoxious businessman, a character whose raison d’être seems to be to provide comic Russell Peters with some space to do his thing.
His thing is funny, but the cameo protrudes, pointing out that this is a comedy actually in need of comic relief. Lieberman also hasn’t figured out how to integrate a couple of Bollywood numbers, both of them fantasy sequences since the Canadian plot hardly makes room for such extravagance. Until the wedding scene, of course, where Peters rides in on an elephant. By this point, there is an air of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink desperation about Breakaway, which also includes cameos for the rap star Drake and the Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, both playing themselves.
Virmani plays Rajveer with a perpetual smirk on his face, which only works when his new girlfriend, his new coach or his old father are pointing out that his problem is his overinflated ego, but becomes annoying when he is supposed to play the supplicant, wooing the girl, the coach or the dad, let alone express any more honest feeling.
As his love interest, Camilla Belle is hopelessly bland. Yes, one can believe this is a woman who has never eaten curry; harder to believe she might take on a human-rights case. Like his sister, the coach gives way far too easily to Rajveer’s charms, so Lowe is underemployed as he dutifully produces the sharp-tongued skeptic with the rapidly revealed heart of gold. There are no signs that Belle has more spunk than she offers here, but we know Lowe does, and it’s sadly missed.
The equally international supporting cast is stronger: There is more delicate work from Kher as Rajveer’s unbending father and from Sakina Jaffrey as the mother caught between the two men. The arguments around the immigrant family dinner table are no less clichéd than the victories at the rink, but those scenes do ring truer. A moment such as the one when Rajveer comforts his younger brother, who has been teased about his turban, where we actually see the tearful boy’s great mop of uncut hair, suggests that somewhere, once upon a time, there was an honest idea here, before the many creators of Breakaway started handing out cameos to rap stars and pachyderms.
- Written by Noel Baker, Jeff Schechter, Matt Simmons, Ajay Virmani and Vinay Virmani
- Directed by Robert Lieberman
- Starring Vinay Virmani, Rob Lowe, Camilla Belle and Russell Peters
- Classification: PG