In Canada, the sport of curling is front page news in the sports broadcasts and newspapers, but outside of Canada, it’s nothing more than a cult pastime. Curling is set on ice where players try to position rocks on targets and…oh, never mind. Why make a film about curling, a subject that will have little or no appeal outside Canada? That’s how Canadians think. Maybe Hockey was too commercial.
While the sport of curling might be completely alien to North American audiences, the plot of “Men With Brooms” is old, old, old. The movie’s about a disgraced curler named Chris Cutter(Paul Gross), who years earlier was caught cheating and walked out on his team during a big match(called a bonspiel), never to be seen again, leaving behind a beautiful fiancee. When his old coach dies, Chris returns to his hometown, where the old man’s will pleads with Chris to reunite with his old gang of deadbeats to team up once again to try and win the Golden Broom, the Super Bowl of curling. Chris’ return prompts a painful confrontation with the old flame and her sexy sister(Molly Parker) and his eccentric father(Leslie Nielsen)who, of course, will end up coaching the team.
You see what I mean about the curling. If the characters in “Men With Brooms” played Hockey, the plot would sound identical to the classic sports comedy “Slap Shot,” so why curling? Maybe it’s because director and star Paul Gross felt that Hockey would be too difficult to film in terms of establishing the characters. Hockey players today look like steel gladiators with their Tron-like helmets, but curlers, they wear jeans, vests, and scoot along the ice in their sneakers. We can see their faces, and we get to know them. They smile too. “Men With Brooms” has the usual elements of the “bunch of losers rise up to win the big game” formula. Chris, of course, is the lost hero who must overcome his past sins to achieve greatness a la Tom Cruise in “Days of Thunder”; Nielsen is the grand master who imparts the sage teachings of the arcana that young Chris must master, and Parker is the love interest which means that she and Chris love and hate other with equal passion. The rest of the team is made up of, in no particular order, a pot dealer, a mortician, and a guy named Eddie who dwells endlessly about his low sperm count. “Men With Brooms” seems quite familiar after all. I even think the mortician character might be inspired by the Treat Williams character in “Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead,” but alas, he doesn’t beat up corpses, just himself, and curling rocks.
The plot of the comeback curlers isn’t very interesting actually, but what I like about “Men With Brooms” and what is kind of special is how the film knows what’s unique and quirky about Canadians, a subject that might be more mysterious to Americans than curling. Yes, Canadians, especially actors and directors, are obsessed about what Americans think of them, but not the characters in “Men With Brooms” who revel in their broken English, obscure curling jargon, dark Canadian skies, and, in some of the film’s funniest scenes, random encounters with armies of wild beavers who provide hilarious obstacles for Chris and his team, by always being in the wrong place at the wrong time, like when they blockade the road as the guy’s are traveling to a tournament.
By the end of “Men With Brooms” we pretty much have the rules of curling down pat, although I’ve never heard of two curling rocks exploding on contact. Of course, Canadians don’t really need to be told these things, and American audiences aren’t likely to be interested, especially since the sight of grown men walking around with brooms in their hands isn’t very macho. I enjoyed “Men With Brooms” and its minor charms, but personally, I think men who slide around on ice holding brooms look kind of wimpy. Then again, I don’t curl, and I don’t watch it either.