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Curl Up and Die

A Canadian comedy gets swept away with its obscure sport.

For most of us living west of New Brunswick and south of Saskatchewan, Canadian humor and curling are both acquired tastes. But that hasn't stopped the Calgary-born actor, writer and director Paul Gross and Artisan Entertainment from releasing an odd duck of a movie called Men With Brooms in such alien climes as Detroit, Denver and Buffalo. Just guessing, but this is probably the first sports comedy in which the hero is a curler -- you know, a guy who slides a funny-looking rock with a big handle along a sheet of ice. Don't count on this becoming a trend. We popcorn munchers are more likely to have some heartwarmer about badminton or squirrel hunting foisted off on us than Gross is to ever get the green light for a sequel. But then, this star of the Canadian sitcom Due South probably has other things in mind.

For the moment, it doesn't really matter what game his characters play. Like virtually every sports movie ever made, this one is all about adversity, sweat and redemption -- with a couple of love stories, a lesson in honesty and a spate of jokes about beavers and bodily functions tacked on for good measure. Set in a grungy small town in Ontario, Men With Brooms (which takes its name from the little brooms curlers use to change the texture of the ice in the rock's path) tells the standard tale of a prodigal son who returns home to clean up his act, repair his broken relationships and grab a little glory playing the game he loves. Ten years earlier, curler Chris Cutter (portrayed with obvious enthusiasm by writer-director Gross) fled his teammates and his fiancée for parts unknown. Now he's back in fictional Long Bay to make amends. The goal? To win the town's annual curling tournament, called the Golden Broom, and reclaim his self-respect. The formula plays out like clockwork.

The alleged sources of amusement here are Cutter's rumpled coach (Leslie Nielsen), who also happens to be his estranged father, and his scruffy teammates. They include James (Peter Outerbridge), a hipster pot dealer with a joint hanging from his lip and a none-too-bright girlfriend (Polly Shannon) in tow. Running joke: James can never remember the girlfriend's name. We've got Neil (James Allodi), an unhappy undertaker with an even unhappier wife. And there's Eddie (Jed Rees), whose lone contribution to comedy north of the border is his single-digit sperm count. Eddie spends the entire movie trying to impregnate his shrieking spouse.

For any regular consumer of raunchy slapstick, this will be pretty familiar stuff, and the Canadian flavor Gross brings to his post-adolescent grossouts -- I guess that's what it is -- doesn't elevate things much. The fact that Nielsen's character collects buckets of steaming cow dung to fertilize his crop of hallucinogenic mushrooms may cause a laugh riot in Moose Jaw, but it seems merely peculiar here. So do the quirks of the movie's two other female characters, sisters who both have a thing for our man Cutter. Julie Foley (Michelle Nolden) is an astronaut; Amy Foley (Molly Parker) is a drunk. We're supposed to find them alternately funny and fascinating.

Meanwhile, Gross spends far too much time explaining the history, rules and nobility of curling, while sticking his tongue only intermittently in his cheek. Unless you're a lunatic-fringe sports nut, you'll probably find the movie's tedious explanations of such arcana as the "skip," the "hack," the "burned rock" and the "four-stone takeout" -- complete with the occasional diagram -- about as interesting as a crash course in house painting. These tutorings are meant, I suppose, to prepare those of us from the tropics -- North Dakota, say -- for the movie's inevitable big-game climax, in which the Cutter team has to face an ice king named Alexander "the Juggernaut" Yount. Fine, but if we care to read instruction manuals, we can always do it in auto-repair class.

Want to know who wins the Golden Broom? How about who gets the girl? What'll you bet that Mr. No-Lead-in-the-Pencil will finally become a daddy? Is all well that ends well? Suffice it to say that this weird but predictable little comedy hits you over the head like a rock.

 
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