Saturday, April 27, 2013

Gordie Howe Is Mr. Hockey

Was Gordie Howe the greatest ever Canadian hockey player?
With appropriate apologies to Rocket Richard, Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky I 'm guessing it's true.
And as Howe celebrates his 85th birthday CBC-TV unveils a sort of mini-biographical TV movie that examines one part of his career.
These days it seems the only TV movies that succeed on Canadian TV are hockey themed --think those twin Don Cherry TV epics.
You can see for yourself how Howe gets treated Sunday night at 8 on CBC.
Unlike the Don Cherry features this one actually has a U.S. play date --it will air shortly on Hallmark Channel.
Sentimental? You betcha! Also cornball, obvious, cliche ridden but just try turning away.
The story centers around Howe's determination in 1973 to come out of retirement and play at least one season with Houston in the WHA just for the sheer satisfaction of playing with his teenaged sons Marty and Mark.
First problem is the casting of ultra smooth Michael Hanks (Saving Hope) in the lead. He scarcely looks like battle scarred Howe and he's way too articulate as well as handsome.
But Shanks pulls it off quite nicely by capturing the competitive essence of the man as well as his deep family roots.
And at least in the medium shots that's Shanks actually skating.
Cast as bossy wife Colleen is Hamilton's Kathleen Robertson who is way too pretty and very young to have such teenaged children,
What is it with Robertson and Canadian TV. Last time we saw her she had aced the part of accused murderess Evelyn Dick in another TV movie.
Andy Mikita directs briskly and the cast includes Lochlyn Munro (as Bobby Hull), Emma Grabinsky (Cathy Howe), Dylan Playfair (Marty Howe), Andrew Herr (Mark Howe) and Donnelly Rhodes as an NHL lawyer.
The saga starts when Howe's famed Number 9 sweater is retired and he goes into the Detroit organization as a vice president doing very little with his time.
He's bored at being typed a has-been and when his two boys are drafted by Houston in the WHA Howe gets this grand vision to suit up for just one more season.
The domestic scenes work well because it's apparent Colleen was the dynamic one. She determined her two eldest sons would go to the WHA rather than spend two more season in the juniors.
She made the decision they'd all move to Houston. She monitored the boys' lives, Gordie's life and everybody agreed she was mostly right.
The only truly fine TV movie about hockey was Gross Misconduct: The Life Of Brian Spencer directed by Atom Egoyan.
So let's be agreed Mr. Hockey is agreeable hokum perfectly timed to run right before the hockey playoffs. Howe didn't drink much, did not womanize and adored his children provided they agreed with him.
And yet there is drama here in the nicely staged hockey encounters as a very old man tries for one more grab at the brass ring.
I kept watching even though I knew the ending as will all true hockey buffs.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

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