There is a fine line between a quality children’s movie and a mind-numbingly stupid one. I don’t believe you should have to check your brain at the door to enjoy a kids’ movie. Just look at the Pixar video library, or the Disney archives. All you see are four-star classics, from Aladdin to Wall-E, from Cinderella to Toy Story. What made those movies great was that their creators did not insult the intelligence of the kids watching. The plots and jokes were so well constructed that even adults looked forward to taking their kids to see these movies, because the adults knew they would be entertained too. The creators of these movies stuck obscure references everywhere knowing that maybe one out of every one hundred people would get them, but when that person is you, you feel so damn smart, and you feel like you’ve been rewarded for your diligence. Keep this in mind as you read on, and ask yourself if the subject of today’s induction, MVP: Most Valuable Primate, makes you feel like you had to work hard to get the jokes, or does it make you feel like you’ve been bludgeoned mercilessly over the head.
The Hockey Hall of Shame has had MVP on its radar for quite some time now, and with my parental leave almost at an end, and with all other work and writing projects completed, I found myself with little choice but to sit down and finally watch this movie. I knew I would want to yell at my screen. I knew I would want to curse Keystone Pictures for unleashing this monstrosity onto the world, but I also knew that this piece of tripe was going to be a gold mine for material. So onward! As a bad movie connoisseur, I knew what I was getting myself into. I should have taken it as a warning sign to turn around and pick another DVD from my shelf when I found out this film was produced, written, and directed by Robert Vince. When one guy wears that many hats, and his name isn’t Eastwood, it usually means one thing: LOW BUDGET. Another warning sign should have been when I checked Robert Vince’s IMDB page and his filmography is a cornucopia of movies featuring animals as the main character: MVP: Most Vertical Primate, MXP: Most Extreme Primate, Santa Buddies, Space Buddies, The Search for Santa Paws, Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups. MVP, being Vince’s first movie, set him up for a lifetime of hiring people whose job description likely requires them to pick up dog and monkey poop
The plot of the movie revolves around Steven Westover, played by Canadian actor Kevin Zegers, and his deaf sister Tara, who have just moved from California to Nelson, British Columbia with their parents. On a side note, Nelson, British Columbia, is the home town of former Seal Mike Laughton. That right there, folks, is about the closest you are going to get to a concrete hockey fact in this article, because Robert Vince has apparently never watched a hockey game in his life. What I presume he has watched a lot of, however, is other sports movies and bad 80’s sitcoms. Get ready for a festival of tropes and cliches the likes of which you have never seen.
Anyway, Steven is a young hotshot hockey player with dreams of playing in the NHL. He shows up at the local arena for his first practice with his new Junior B team, the Golden Nuggets. Some of you more erudite readers may know that “nuggets” is a synonym for “turds”. Now THAT would be an appropriate nickname for this team. You know the team is bad because even the letters spelling N-U-G-G-E-T-S on the arena front are starting to fall off.
Oh, and I just realized that if you slightly rearrange the letters in “Nuggets” you get “Gets Gun” which I feel I will soon need to do so I can blow my head off to avoid watching the rest of this thing.
As Steven walks up to the glass, he notices everyone on the team rolling around the ice like they’re trying out for the high school wrestling team. Why are they wrestling? Are they mad at each other? Are they just jacking around trying to act tough? Who knows, because the film explains nothing. My guess is they are wrestling because the script tells them to, and that’s it. After all, they are a HOCKEY team, and hockey players are supposed to do nothing but fight, right?. One guy even gives his downed teammate an elbow drop à la Macho Man Randy Savage. Oh, the hilarity!
Upon looking at the human disarray splattered all over the ice, Steven asks himself a very important question:
Dude, I’m wondering the same thing myself… Where’s that bottle of Jameson whiskey I bought in Ireland on my honeymoon? Ah, there it is. Ok, I think I’m ready to continue.
According to Coach Marlowe (played by the late Canadian stand-up comedian Rick Ducommun), Junior B is the place where hockey dreams go to die. And he’s right; these guys REALLY suck, which is probably why they’ve all been cut by much better teams and are now playing in Nelson. Why they even play hockey, I have no idea, since they openly admit they have no chance of playing in the NHL, they have no scholarships, and one player even believes he is going to end up “in Moose Jaw pumping gas.” Basically, these guys just don’t give a sh*t.
Who are the misfits that make up the sorriest hockey team since the 1974-75 Washington Capitals?
Well, there’s Pete Ribchimpski – yes, that’s his name – their all-star forward who apparently likes to take naps during morning practice, and who according to Coach Marlowe, is “on the injured list for some reason.” Nice to see the coach is keeping up on what’s going on with his troops.
Then there’s Stosh, who I’m guessing is not all that important a character since he’s dead last on the IMDB cast list, behind such luminaries as Cole Verkuylen, and no less than THREE Gurniak brothers/cousins: Danny, Dave and Sean, all listed as “Hockey Players” in the film. Like any athlete in a comedy about a ragtag bunch of misfits, Stosh has to have some sort of eccentricity, which in his case is a love of knitting.
Oh, that reminds me of another Seal fact… one-time California Seal for-a-day Jacques Plante, also liked to knit himself tuques in his spare time.
Of course, every ragtag team has to have one guy who is WAY bigger than everyone else on the team, because it’s funny to laugh at fat people playing sports. I call it the “Engleberg cliché,” or if you’re a Mighty Ducks fan, the “Goldberg cliché.” In this case, the Nuggets’ Goldberg is named Moose. Even if you’re deaf, and there are no subtitles on your screen, you will know this is his name because it’s written on the back of his jersey, just like you would see in any serious Junior B league.
Oh, and the guy he’s throttling during wrestling practice, that would be Larry, not like it actually matters because none of the Nuggets’ players do anything to push the plot along in any way; they’re just there, like those kids you remember being in high school with you, yet you can’t remember a single fact about them because all they seemed to do was read under the oak tree in the school yard.
And then there’s Pete Magoo, the goalie, who was once a top WHL prospect, but who fell from grace because his nerves were shot.
Magoo… that name reminds me of someone. Ah, probably not important.
All the Nuggets’ fans want is a win. And that win couldn’t come soon enough, since some of their fans may not have much longer to live.
Is that Blue from Old School? That old dude was hardcore, man!
To make sure we know this movie takes place in Canada, we get lots of moments where the actors make that fact clear by using the word “eh” derisively at the end of sentences, and by always calling Steven a “Yankee”. And of course, there are numerous lame remarks about a kid from California playing hockey, such as, “Do they even have ice in California?” Yes. Yes, they do. Have you ever heard of the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks? Of course, the California kid skates loops around all the angry, insulted Canadian kids, who decide to take runs at him and send him flying over the boards.
In the meantime, somewhere far, far away, a Dr. Kendall has been trying to teach sign language to a chimpanzee named Jack… Hmm, methinks this skill is going to come in handy later on. Sadly, Dr. Kendall dies of a heart attack, and the evil Dr. Peabody wants to sell Jack to the University of Tennessee’s medical research lab, because Peabody believes it is a waste of time and money to teach a chimp sign language. While Dr. Peabody discusses his evil plan, Jack’s friend Darren, a janitor, overhears everything, so he decides to help Jack get home.
Darren is… how to put this nicely… rather comparable to one Forrest Gump, minus the dumb luck and box of chocolates. He also crosses his eyes a lot to let us know he’s a little on the confused side.
He also walks around with one pant leg rolled up to half-way between his ankle and his ass. Because he’s awkward, you see.
The writers of this movie weren’t exactly masters of subtlety.
So this is Darren’s plan: stuff Jack in a duffel bag, and put him on a train to some place called El Simian. Doesn’t that mean, “The Monkey”? What kind of place is called The Monkey? Anyway, when Jack gets there he is supposed to hand a note and ten bucks to the nearest taxi driver, who is supposed to take Jack where he needs to go. I don’t know about you, but in Canada, ten bucks won’t get you very far in a taxi, not even in 2000, when this movie was filmed. And what taxi driver is going to just take a chimp in his car no questions asked? Not surprisingly, Jack misses his stop, because, you know, he’s a freakin’ PRIMATE with limited intellect, so he keeps traveling all the way to Nelson!
Back in Kitimat, British Columbia, the Nuggets are struggling mightily on the ice. What would you expect when you’re playing a team from a town that is absolutely RIDDLED with crime, to the point that the Nuggets’ play-by-play man (played by SCTV alum Dave Thomas) is sitting in a booth covered in graffiti and surrounded by a chain link fence.
If I had a choice, I would prefer the friendly confines of inner city Detroit. As a Canadian, I had no idea that pre-9/11 my home land was such a cesspool of crime and gang violence. There’s a lot of other things I also forgot were routine back in 2000 that would never be seen today. For example, during the game, one Nuggets player gets pasted against the boards, and instead of carrying him off on a stretcher, a couple of trainers just drag him off by the legs. I completely forgot that’s how things were done in hockey before all those concussion protocols became mandated by governing bodies. And home teams apparently were allowed to pick their own referees, so there was no point in begging the ref to give your opponent a boarding penalty, because the ref was never going to bite. The crowd is also allowed to throw eggs at the visiting team without receiving a penalty. This league makes the WHA look like a bunch of comatose ballerinas. Forget the Birmingham Bulls! Steve Durbano, Frankie “Never” Beaton, and the Hanson brothers would be eaten alive by these kids!
Back in Nelson, Jack wanders around until he runs across a tree-house, and like any chimpanzee with manners, he sweeps up the place before settling in for the night. Seriously. Wouldn’t you know it, the tree-house happens to be in Steven and Tara’s back yard. Tara returns to the tree-house after school one day, and as she’s rifling through Jack’s collection of magazines (seriously), Jack pops down from the ceiling, and Tara faints.
Like in a hundred movies before, from E.T. to Mac and Me, Tara decides to take the creature in without Steven or their parents finding out. Of course, Jack keeps trying to escape the closet Tara put him in, but Steven notices nothing. The best part of the scene has to be when Steven asks Tara if she’s seen something of his. I’ll let you try to figure out what that something is.
I swear I heard him say “meth book,” but maybe that’s just me.
The next morning, Jack inevitably wakes up before Tara, and begins to roam around the house, trying on Dad’s glasses, making a pot of coffee, and pouring himself a bowl of “Apple O’s.” That’s when Steven comes down the stairs and finds himself face to face with a smiling chimpanzee. Dad, of course, notices absolutely nothing unusual.
So the kids head out to the pond for a little morning skate. Of course, there just happens to be a pair of skates big enough for Jack to wear. You can cue up the Tara-teaching-Jack-to-skate montage. And just what you expect to happen happens. Jack of course… can barely stand on his own feet. What, you thought he would just start skating around like he was Connor McDavid or something? No, don’t be silly; that would make absolutely no sense. It takes Jack about twenty minutes to master the art of skating. Oh, and shooting too, as the first puck he slaps flies THROUGH Steven’s net.
Jack quietly leaves the house as Steven heads out for another hockey night suckorama with the rest of the Turds. Steven has finally had enough of his teammates, and he confronts them about their lackadaisical attitude and constant goofing off. As Steven leaves the room in disgust, Magoo agrees, and we can all see where this is going.
Wouldn’t you know it, Moose gets decked by a member of the opposing team and goes ballistic, running at the guy so hard, he should have got 45 minutes for boarding. He then dishes the puck to Steven, who then scores. Looks like these guys aren’t so bad after all. In the meantime, Jack sneaks into the Nuggets’ dressing room and suits up to join the rest of the team. How he found a jersey and equipment to fit him spur-of-the-moment like this, your guess is as good as mine. Oh, and the jersey that just happened to fit him belonged to the “injured” Pete RibCHIMPski.
Masters of subtlety, I tells ya. Who would have thought that Ribchimpski would conveniently also be three feet tall and use a two-foot long stick? The hockey gods are indeed mysterious!
So out onto the ice Jack goes, and no one even notices he’s a freakin’ chimp. Jack grabs the puck and fires it at the goalie. Actually, the puck doesn’t even leave the ice and it moves at the same pace as a constipated snail, yet through the magic of Hollywood special effects the puck still finds its way to the top corner of the net. The game’s all tied up, 3-3! Oh my, this is getting exciting! I feel as though I’m going to run out of finger nails before long. Finally, finally (!), as the Nuggets celebrate the goal, everyone, and I mean everyone, gasps at the sight of this hockey-playing chimpanzee. And after the obligatory you-could-hear-a-pin-drop silence, they laugh at him! What a bunch of dicks! The goal gets called back too. This ref sure as hell ain’t gonna let some feel-good family romp get in the way of the rules, so you gotta respect him for that; he could have just let the chimp have his goal, but nope, no way.
So now that the cat, er, chimp is out of the bag, Mom agrees to let Jack stay since no one reported him missing. Coach Marlowe now has to convince the Nuggets’ hick owners that keeping Jack on the team will increase attendance. Luckily for him, hicks love nothing more than a circus. “All those in favour?” asks one owner. And they answer in unison “Aye!” I’m just kidding. Robert Vince’s humour is more low-brow than an episode of Married With Children, so the owners all say “Eh!” Get it? Because they’re Canadian! Ah, my poor ribs!
This is one weird town, let me tell you. One day, the town’s welcome-wagon ladies stop by unexpectedly to pay a visit to their new American neighbours. Actually, these ladies aren’t much of a welcome wagon at all; more of a prissy condo committee whose first order of business is to explain to Tara and Steven’s mom that no dogs are allowed because some of the neighbours complained about animals running amok in the past. I can understand that, but these people live in the MIDDLE OF THE FREAKIN’ WOODS! There are animals literally EVERYWHERE, even stray chimpanzees from what I’ve heard…
The Vernon Vikings come to town to take on our beleaguered heroes, who need to win this game to have any shot at the playoffs. This league must really suck for a team with zero wins to this point to still have a shot at the playoffs. The real news though is that Jack is skating with the Nuggets! Even the play-by-play man is so shocked he does a spit take. He should probably start reading more of Bob McKenzie’s tweets. The Nuggets’ owners agreed to let Jack play to increase attendance, but they apparently forgot to tell anyone he was actually playing. “The crowd is going bananas!” he exclaims. Didn’t see that pun coming…
Of course, Jack spends a good portion of the game hanging onto the sweaters of opposing players…
…and hiding behind the referee while another player tries to get at him. Imagine someone hiding behind a tree, and you circling around the tree trying to get at him. Sweet Lord! This game is a cinematic catastrophe. One of Jack’s shots bounces off EVERYTHING in the arena before bonking the arena organist on the head.
Of course, the next time we see him, he’s wearing a helmet, just like the organist in Slap Shot.
Well, I suppose if you’re going to rip off gags from another hockey movie, might as well pick the best one of all time. I have no idea what the blue thing is hanging out of his mouth though. Anyway, the Nuggets win their first game of the season, 4-1.
Steven suspects something is up with Magoo, the goalie. Surprise, surprise, he can’t see squat! Now I get why his name sounded so funny!
Subtle… Magoo, because he’s almost blind like the cartoon character! This movie has so many layers! So our hockey-playing Magoo gets himself a pair of glasses…
…with tape around the middle piece, of course, like a certain trio of thugs from a 1977 hockey movie that shall remain nameless, and sure enough, Magoo begins to show his old form. The Nuggets start to win a few here and there, and they even teach their old rivals the Kitimat Tigers a lesson as Jack skates alongside their bench and smacks each player upside the head with his stick à la Hanson Brothers.
How much of this movie was recycled from Slap Shot? Oh God, Jack had better not start stripping at center ice and parading around in his jock strap with the championship trophy over his head, because I don’t think I have the wherewithal to deal with that right now. Anyway, Jack rifles ANOTHER shot through the net, winning the game, and just like that the Nuggets are off to the Harvest Cup Final.
Not long after the Nuggets’ big win, Steven spies the “injured” Pete, alone on the ice displaying a dazzling array of skills, and proving he’s not injured after all. And this guy is their captain. Says something about the make-up of your team when the guy who has been faking an injury all season long, and taking naps during practices, is the one who was chosen to wear the “C” on his sweater.
The Nuggets travel to Vancouver to the music of Zamfir blowing on a harmonica (seriously, that’s what it sounds like) and they react like any small-town hicks would entering the big city for the first time, drooling over a blonde business woman. Moose then says, “We sure ain’t in Kansas anymore.” Does this movie not have ONE original idea in its script? Did Robert Vince just grab a bunch of classic movie scripts and cut and paste the best lines into his own script? Upon entering GM Place, the home of the Vancouver Canucks, one of the players exclaims, “This is my fifteen minutes of fame.” Little did this actor realize he was actually spewing some truth there. Coach Marlowe then exclaims, “I love the smell of Zamboni fumes in the morning.” Good God, JUST ONE ORIGINAL IDEA, PLEASE!
The Nuggets are about to take on the Calgary Polar Bears for the Harvest Cup, and just look at the excitement in the GM Place stock-footage crowd as they anticipate the opening face-off.
Let me tell you, these Polar Bears play for blood, as they send Nuggets flying everywhere. They even score the first goal on Magoo, who like any movie goalie who finds his game, gets himself a brand new paint job on his mask, like Denis Lemieux in Slap Shot. How many clichés is that, like 47?
Magoo does make a pretty nice save on one Polar Bear, prompting the Nugget netminder to yell out “Magoo is in the house!” 48…
After the first period, the score is 1-0 Calgary, but there are bigger problems looming, namely one Dr. Peabody, who has come looking for Jack after having seen a news report on him earlier. He and one of his cronies have a stack of “Wanted” posters that look exactly like what would be found in an Old West sheriff office, and they’re at the rink asking people if they’ve seen Jack. Seriously? You just saw Jack playing hockey! Why don’t you just turn your head slightly and look on the ice? Chances are, Jack is that three-foot player barely able to skate. Jesus, when is this thing going to end?
Did Jack stick up the patrons at the town saloon?
In the second period, Jack takes one of the worst-filmed slap shots of all-time and sends the puck flying past the Calgary goaltender. It’s all tied up, 1-1. Dr. Peabody and his assistant have other plans though: to grab Jack after the game. Tara, however, warns Steven about this. After all, since she’s deaf, she can read lips, even though Dr. Peabody and his crony are sitting ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF A MASSIVE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE ARENA! I don’t get this girl: she can’t hear a thing, but she has binoculars for eyes.
During the intermission, Ribchimpski – God, that’s a stupid name – finally admits to Coach Marlowe that he has been faking his injury all along, and is healthy enough to play.
What the hell were you waiting for, you tool? There’s literally TWENTY MINUTES left in the season. Not that it really matters, because since he wasn’t on the line-up card to start the game, he’s not allowed to play anyway. Ah well, all’s well that ends well…
Wait, what? Ribchimpski is ALLOWED to replace Steven, who says he is now “injured”? They can’t do that! This movie is just making rules up as it goes along! Ah, whatever, there’s only like nine minutes left in this stupid thing; I’m tired of trying to make sense out of this plot.
With less than a minute to go in the game, Ribchimpski weaves his way through the Calgary defense and unleashes a howitzer that beats the goalie, but not the post. The puck lands on the goal line and… it just sits there, and sits there, and sits there for OVER 20 SECONDS while a Nugget tussles with the Calgary goalie IN THE FREAKIN’ NET!
C’mon ref, take the whistle out of your pocket and do your freakin’ job! Rollerball had stricter rules than this, and that was a post-apocalyptic death sport whose league president wanted to kill its star player.
As ridiculous as the refereeing is in this movie, it does not even come close to the thing that bothers me most about this movie. I present to you the WORLD’S MOST USELESS DEFENSEMAN EVER IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND AND ANY OTHER ALIEN RACE THAT HAS EVER EXISTED IN THE UNIVERSE SINCE THE DAWN OF HISTORY!
Why is he just standing there with his legs spread wide open like he’s trying to stop someone from getting at the puck. IT’S ON YOUR OWN GOAL LINE, YOU MORON! JUST BAT THE DAMN THING INTO THE CORNER! BUT NOOOOOOO! What does he do? Jack dives on the ice between the defenseman’s legs, and the defenseman goes for a CROSSCHECK. That’s right, he tried to cross check a THREE-FOOT TALL MONKEY SLIDING ON HIS BELLY. Of course, Jack pokes the STILL loose puck past the goal line with less than one second to go, and the Nuggets win.
Hold on a sec… that goal counted? There was a damn wrestling match going on in the goalie’s crease, and… Wait a minute… what’s this?
It was Tara who scored? How is THAT legal? You fans in Buffalo think you got robbed by Brett Hull in ’99? You had better stop whining right now, because you ain’t got nothing on the screw job the Calgary Polar Bears got.
So that means Jack isn’t… Oh, Dr. Peabody is going to be piiiiissssed! Steven uses his time on the injured list to smuggle Jack out of the arena and get him on a plane to El Simian, where he is reunited with his parents and…
God, no! How did that doofus end up here?
Back in the locker room, the Nuggets are celebrating their “chimpionship” (seriously, that’s what one of the players said), hoisting the world’s smallest hockey trophy over their heads.
We find out that Magoo was (of course) signed by the Mighty Ducks’ farm team. Steven gets invited to the Vancouver junior team camp.
I understand this is a kids’ movie, but wow, that was a bad, bad movie, and way worse than I ever could have expected. This movie currently holds a 3.8 rating on IMDB.com and it made only $1.2 million at the box office. Yes, someone actually thought, “Hmm, let’s get this thing out to theatres right NOW! I smell an Oscar…”
You know, I’ve learned something today: it’s one thing for a movie to be incompetent, low-budget, and mind-numbingly stupid, but if it entertains you, it can’t be all that bad. I mean, I’ve watched Plan 9 From Outer Space so often I can practically recite it by heart. I’ve laughed my ass off at Manos: The Hands of Fate. I’ve cheered on the robot monster in The Robot Monster. I even felt a slight pain in my heart at the sight of Lobo losing the girl in Bride of the Monster. To me, that makes those incompetent reels of celluloid Hollywood masterpieces in their own weird way. But Most Valuable Primate? I give you the Hockey Hall of Shame’s first Hockeywood Disasterpiece.