Comedian Russell Peters used to have this bit that he would tell in 1995. It was about an all-Sikh ice hockey team called the Toronto Maple Sikhs: “Singh passes to Singh. Singh shoots on Singh. … They’re in a corner now opening up a store.”
It was provocative enough to garner him death threats.
Breakaway, a film about an all-Sikh hockey team in which Peters stars, is not going to attract any death threats. Actually, think of the antipode of death threats — maybe a basket of bunnies or hugs from toddlers — and that is a more likely association.
Directed by Robert Lieberman (D3: The Mighty Ducks), Breakaway is a feel-good family flick (emphasis on feel-good). It’s the kind of film where stirring instrumentals accompany every speech: “Tonight, you can show the entire country that you belong.” It’s the kind of film where two lovebirds ice dance in front of the Taj Mahal and lilac-coloured mountains. It’s like Hockey Night in Disneyland.
Its starry-eyed protagonist, Rajveer Singh (played by newcomer Vinay Virmani, who also penned the story), works at his uncle’s Toronto-area trucking company, Speedy Singh Transport; but Raj dreams of hockey greatness, a diversion that he later hides from his disapproving father.
If this sounds like Bend It Like Beckham (the Canadian edition), it’s not. While it does have the same frowning father (both played by Anupam Kher) and a family wedding on, gasp, game day, Breakaway has fewer twists and turns.
The stock storyline begins with a rivalry: Raj’s rec team, the Speedy Singhs, butt heads with the Hammerheads, whose captain is a bit of a racist butt-head. Unfortunately, the Speedy Singhs (who are mostly indistinguishable for lack of character development), are low on hockey skills and clever comebacks. (When Raj hits an opponent’s gloves into the net, a teammate quips: “That’s two gloves to nothing!”)
To get even, they sign up for a tournament. To win the coveted Hyundai Cup (note: winners only get glory and maybe to first base with a girl, but no cars), they enlist Dan Winters (Rob Lowe) as a coach. Winters once played four games with the Detroit Red Wings, but his temper killed his career. The only time you see this temper, however, is when he rips the “C” off of Raj’s jersey, which he does with as much spirit as someone picking lint off of a shoulder.
In fact, there’s little for anyone to get too fired up about, since the plot sets up bumps and snags and then immediately runs a Zamboni over them. For example, Raj’s little brother goes missing; within two minutes, Raj has found him, consoled him about being bullied and sealed the moment with an “I love you, bro.” The audience also does not get to see how the Speedy Singhs get speedy enough to triumph.
The plot devotes ample time to a budding romance between Raj and Melissa, Coach Winter’s little sister (Camilla Belle). But their relationship is unbelievable — not because, as Peters has said, she’s a “hot white girl” — but because they lack any spark. (There’s more sexual chemistry between Ron MacLean and Don Cherry.)
The film is anchored by Virmani, whose Raj is likable but could use more depth, and his family members, played by Kher, Sakina Jaffrey (the mother), comedian Gurpreet Ghuggi Singh (Uncle Sammy) and 10-year-old Kashish Suri (the brother). Also, Peters himself as Sonu, a scheming business man who is marrying Raj’s cousin, keeps the movie from taking itself too seriously.
In the end, Breakaway is a little like seeing a player score on an open net. You’re satisfied, but the straight shot takes the fun out of watching.
This review was originally published Sept. 30, 2011.