The Rhino Brothers
Directed by Dwayne John Beaver
Written by Rudy Thauberger
Starring Gabrielle Rose, Curt Bechdholt, William MacDonald
Since the competition isn't exactly stiff, let's begin with a speculative conclusion: The Rhino Brothers may well be the worst hockey flick since Face-Off. And that's a shame, doubly so because its makers are Canadian. If this game is our cultural passion (and it is), and if that passion has a strong aesthetic component (and it does), then hockey should be a natural fit on the big screen. There's a great movie to be fashioned on the subject, and we're the ones to do it.
Alas, so far, no one has. Admittedly, few good films have been made about any sport -- it seems to be a difficult genre to master. Part of the reason is that the game itself is rarely the focus of the picture; instead, it's just the colourful backdrop for a tale that meanders off on more commercial tangents -- slapstick comedy and abject melodrama are two perennial favourites. Hockey movies, scant as they may be, have proved no exception to this rule: Les Boys went for easy locker-room stereotypes and cheap laughs, while Atom Egoyan's Gross Misconduct headed down the psychological path of personal tragedy.
If nothing else -- and there isn't much else -- The Rhino Brothers at least deserves some credit for trying to get at the cultural roots of the sport. The setting is small-town, blue-collar Canada, the kind of place whose dominant landmarks are the adjoining mill and the local rink. There, the Kanachowski clan keep hoping to cash in on their only ticket out of this backwater: the free-pass that arrives when the hockey lords dangle a professional contract. The family consists of three more-or-less adult men all under the dominant thumb of an obsessed matriarch -- cigarette in one hand, brewski in the other, Ellen (Gabrielle Rose) is the hockey mom from hell.
She almost scored with her eldest son Sasha (William MacDonald), who had a cup of coffee in the big leagues but got cut, and is now back in his old bedroom nursing the suds and his wounded ego with equal zeal. The middle boy Victor (Alistair Abell) never had much talent, and thus had to content himself with getting happily married, being a good father, and running a successful business -- all of which makes him a flop in mom's narrow eyes. Instead, her last hopes are pinned on young Stefan (Curt Bechdholt), who's playing minor pro with a real chance of moving up. So what's he doing back in town, his sullen girlfriend on his arm and his competitive fires on the wane?
That's where the story starts, and pretty much stops too. Sure, we're treated to the inevitable sibling jealousies, variations on the "Mommy always loved you best" theme. And there's the growing mania of Mom herself who, at one risible point, is made to gaze fondly over the boards and wonder rhetorically, "Is there anything more beautiful than a hockey player on the ice?". That line would gag Don Cherry -- it's a small triumph of acting that Rose somehow manages to choke it down at all.
But, soon enough, the cast is uniformly undone by both the flatness of the dialogue and the vagueness of the narrative. Indeed, having established the family's clichéd little dramas, the film does nothing but tack on clichéd little resolutions. And the direction, by Dwayne John Beaver, is as haphazard as the script. Beaver's sense of composition is so marginal that he often misses the visual climax within any given scene. His approach to the hockey sequences -- the bros suit up together on the local team -- is no less maladroit. He tends to shoot the players close-up and from the knees down, thereby robbing the sport of the very qualities he means to celebrate -- its rhythm and flow.
Finally, the horn sounds to end our misery, with the game summary as follows: The action on the ice is bogus, the surrounding melodrama is trite, and the only laughs to be had are inadvertent. In short, long-suffering fans get shut-out again.