Published Sep 30, 2011"Ice hockey's a white man's game," says one of the Sikh hockey players in Breakaway. He's got a point: the most beloved past time in Canada certainly isn't the most inclusive. But in Robert Lieberman's Breakaway, the Speedy Singhs (a team of Indo-Canadian hockey players) are out to show that the good old hockey game can really be anyone's sport.
In a plot that is eerily similar to Gurinder Chadha's Bend It Like Beckham, Lieberman's film centres on Rajveer Singh (Vinay Virmani), a second-generation Canadian struggling to balance his family's traditional values and expectations with his dream of becoming a star hockey player.
As in Chadha's 2002 hit, Singh's main adversary is his father, played by the formidable Anupam Kher (coincidentally the same actor who played Jess's father in Bend It Like Beckham), who wants his son to do well by the family and one day own his brother's truck rental business.
When Rajveer and his friends decide to form their own hockey team, led by the local ice rink's hockey-great-turned-janitor Dan Winters (Rob Lowe) and his sister, Melissa (Camilla Belle), Rajveer decides to keep his new project a secret from his parents, who've banned him from playing hockey altogether. But when the Speedy Singhs actually start winning games, while coming up against discrimination from other hockey teams ("We're waiting for you snake-charmers to get off the ice!" yells a player at their first game), Rajveer finds his secret getting the better of him.
Though guilty of falling back on stereotypes, the well-meaning Breakaway takes great strides in addressing issues facing racialized Canadians, and does a commendable job realizing Rajveer's position, wedged firmly between two cultural identities. "I'm judged inside this house for who I'm not and outside for who I am," he tells his parents.
Unfortunately, a number of subplots take the film decidedly off-track. Comedian Russell Peters, for example, brings some appreciated comic relief to the clunky dialogue, but his relationship with Reena, Rajveer's cousin, has little to do with anything in the story, other than the promise of an Indian wedding and unbearable dance routines.
Breakaway's navigation of religion also feels like something of an afterthought, tackled only at the end of the film, when the team are told they can't wear their turbans in place of helmets. And if the ever-changing cast of characters didn't already confuse you, celebrity cameos from Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar and rappers Drake and Ludacris serve to completely discombobulate.
Breakaway takes a strong, family-oriented drama about what it means to be Canadian and tacks on extraneous storylines that, instead of complementing, only serve to undermine its message.
By the time the Speedy Singhs actually have a fighting chance at winning the big game, you more or less can't remember what it is they're fighting for. (Alliance)