Howe

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT -

Af­ter its back-to-back suc­cesses with two dra­mas based on the life and ca­reer of player-turned-coach-turned­com­men­ta­tor Don Cherry (both of which were also shot here), CBC no doubt fig­ured a movie about Howe — an im­mea­sur­ably bet­ter player and, un­like Grapes, the sub­ject of univer­sal ado­ra­tion — would be a can’t-miss propo­si­tion.

Well, it turns out you can miss if you don’t have a work­able script or an in­ter­est­ing story to tell.

The prob­lems start with the ti­tle, which turns out to be a bit of a bait-andswitch tac­tic. Folks tun­ing in with the idea that some­thing called Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story would tell the story of Howe’s life, or at least pro­vide a look back at his NHL achieve­ments as a mem­ber of the Detroit Red Wings, will be sorely dis­ap­pointed.

Mr. Hockey, as writ­ten by Mal­colm MacRury and di­rected by Andy Mikita, doesn’t be­gin its story un­til af­ter Howe (por­trayed by Michael Shanks) has re­tired from the Red Wings af­ter a ca­reer that spanned from 1946-47 to 1970-71.

Un­like the Don Cherry biopics, which were filled with flash­backs to var­i­ous early por­tions of their sub­ject’s ca­reer, Mr. Hockey ba­si­cally ig­nores most of Howe’s sig­nif­i­cant hockey ac­com­plish­ments and fo­cuses on a sin­gle year — the 1973-74 sea­son, in which Howe made the leap to the fledg­ling World Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion’s Hous­ton Aeros to play along­side sons Mark and Marty (Dy­lan Play­fair, Andy Herr).

One can only spec­u­late whether the film’s mak­ers thought Howe’s broader ca­reer was un­in­ter­est­ing, or sim­ply de­cided it was bet­ter to fo­cus on a smaller, more man­age­able story for ease-of-scriptwrit­ing pur­poses. The end re­sult, what­ever the mo­ti­va­tion for its di­rec­tion, is more like an ex­tended foot­note to an as-yet-un­told story rather than a wor­thy ex­plo­ration of a great hockey life.

And lack­ing, as it does, any real nar­ra­tive mo­men­tum, Mr. Hockey quickly be­gins to feel like an ex­er­cise in which the wardrobe and prop de­part­ments were in­structed to go as far over the top as pos­si­ble in out­fit­ting ev­ery scene with ’70s-kitsch cloth­ing, colour schemes and cos­tume-party wigs.

Shanks and co-star Kath­leen Robert­son, who plays Gordie’s wife and man­ager, Colleen Howe, of­fer an earnest ef­fort at play­ing the Howes as a cou­ple united by love and de­ter­mined to give their kids the best life pos­si­ble. But there’s just not much, script-wise, with which they can work.

The on-ice as­pects of Mr. Hockey are re­duced to car­toon­ish silli­ness, and the at-home se­quences are mostly just bor­ing. The Howes, as por­trayed here, are pretty nice folks who don’t do any­thing all that con­tro­ver­sial or in­ter­est­ing.

And maybe that’s the prob­lem: dur­ing a life­time of be­ing Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe has pretty much al­ways been re­garded as a very nice, very po­lite, very soft-spo­ken gen­tle­man of hockey. He has been a plea­sure to ob­serve, but the cre­ators of this movie were un­able to turn his story — or even a small, af­ter-the-fact snippet of it — into an en­gag­ing TV drama.

One might best de­scribe this ef­fort by putting a re­verse spin on the ti­tle of No. 9’s much-beloved 1963 in­struc­tional book for kids:

Mr. Hockey: Here’s Not Howe.

Shanks de­liv­ers an earnest ef­fort, but the on-ice ac­tion comes off as car­toon­ish.

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