What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is not being done as part of a blog-a-thon. Instead, this is a monthly event hosted by MovieRob called Genre Grandeur. The way it works is every month MovieRob chooses a film blogger to pick a topic and a movie to write about, then also picks a movie for MovieRob to review. At the end of the month, MovieRob posts the reviews of all the participants.
For January of 2022, the honor of being the “guest picker” went to Jason Soto of The Rabbit Hole Podcasts. The topic is “Comedies that feature characters who are either Stoners or Drunks.” It’s even worse in this case….they are also hockey fans.
Much like 1980’s The Blues Brothers, this film is based on the the exploits of characters from a popular late-night comedy show. Bob and Doug McKenzie (played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas respectively), are a couple of Canadian dim-wit, beer-guzzling brothers made famous by SCTV. In their big-screen debut, somehow these live-action North of the Border “Beavis and Buttheads” have become film producers…and not good ones.
While they are screening their awful movie, the audience takes a hostile tone and demands their money back, the brothers release moths into the theater; the distraction allows them to escape without issuing refunds. However, they are still desperate for money, so the next day they place a live mouse in an empty bottle in an attempt to get free beer (reprising one of their signature SCTV bits).
The local store owner wants nothing to do with the scheming brothers; instead the McKenzies are told to take their “complaint” directly to the manufacturer…the mighty Elsinore brewery. But once they get there, the brewery deflects them by not handing them free beer; instead they are given “do-nothing” jobs inspecting the bottling line for mice Elsinore already knows don’t exist.
While our “would-be” suds swindlers are supposedly placated, we are introduced to the antagonist. Elsinore’s Brewmeister Smith (played by Max von Sydow) is actually an evil genius who is hatching a plan for world domination by infusing Elsinore beer with a mind-control drug which simultaneously renders the drinker docile but will become a killer on command when certain musical tones are played.
Smith tests his concoction on patients at the Royal Canadian Institute for the Mentally Insane, which is next-door to the brewery and for some reason is connected by tunnels. However, at the same time Bob and Doug learn of the recent death of the brewery’s owner John Elsinore. Not only did he die under mysterious circumstances, but his daughter Pam (played by Lynne Griffin) has been given full control of the Elsinore brewery.
They undertake an exploration of the expansive Elsinore complex, where they stumble across an abandoned cafeteria which contains an old video game. Somehow, the video game reveals Brewmeister Smith murdered John Elsinore and that Pam’s bumbling Uncle Claude (played by Paul Dooley) was an accomplice.
Later, Bob recognizes a brewery worker as hockey legend Jean “Rosie” LeRose (played by Angus MacInnes). LeRose is there because he suffered a career-ending nervous breakdown and fell under Smith’s control after having been sent to the Royal Canadian Institute for the Mentally Insane.
Eventually, Bob and Doug wander into the Brewmeister’s operations room, where Doug discovers a floppy disk (How 80s is that?). Being the dim-bulb that he is, Doug doesn’t realize the importance of what’s on the disk. He thinks it’s a “new wave EP bootleg” when in fact it contains a video of John Elsinore’s murder.
When Smith and Uncle Claude return catching the brothers “red-handed,” they tranquilize them and set about a scheme to frame them for murder. With Pam and her father’s friend Henry Green (played by Douglas Campbell) drugged and concealed in beer kegs loaded into the McKenzie’s van. The brothers are given orders to deliver the kegs to a party, unaware that Smith and Uncle Claude have tampered with the van’s brakes. This results in a high-speed plunge into Lake Ontario. Everybody survives, but Pam has memory loss and Bog and Doug are arrested.
When they are put on trial, Bob and Doug’s bizarre behavior causes the judge to declare them insane. This of course gets them sent to the Royal Canadian Institute for the Mentally Insane, where they fall under the control of Brewmeister Smith. But the brothers are discovered in the asylum by Rosie, who helps them escape. Together, Rosie and the McKenzies rescue Pam.
The four figure out the Brewmeister Smith’s plan. To foil it, Rosie orchestrates an uprising among the test subjects of the tainted beer. Doug and another group of asylum inmates help capture Claude. Smith captures Pam and Bob and locks them in a brewery tank and begins filling it. But then Rosie and a group of inmates engage Brewmeister Smith in battle; Rosie kills Smith by cross-checking him into his light-up world map, where the spirit of John Elsinore electrocutes the Brewmeister.
Meanwhile, Pam and Bob escape the brewery tank because Bob drinks all the beer. The spirit of John Elsinore warns them that Smith has already shipped tainted beer to Oktoberfest; he implores them they must stop the tainted beer from being consumed. Together with their dog Hosehead, Bob and Doug foil the Brewmeister’s plot; Hosehead leaps into the Oktoberfest tent and as he is mistaken for a skunk, he frightens the party-goers away from the beer.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
The first mistake the first-time viewer of Strange Brew will make is to assume the McKenzie brothers are fictional characters. I’m here to tell you first-hand there were at least two thousand guys just like Bob and Doug roaming free in greater Los Angeles in the late 1970s and early 80s. I know this because I was often among them as they would gather at the Forum for Los Angeles Kings hockey.
Founded in 1967 as part of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) “Original Expansion,” the Los Angeles Kings were the lone outpost of “big-league” puck on the West Coast. Usually, southern California isn’t exactly what one would call “hockey territory;” but being such a large market and being chock full of Canadians and other transplants from “hockey territory,” the NHL couldn’t resist.
So, for the first two decades of their existence, the Los Angeles Kings toiled in the relative obscurity reserved for the “red-headed step-child” of the southern California sports world. Baseball had the storied Dodgers, football had the “Southland’s” first professional sports team, the Rams, and nothing could match the sheer star-power of the “Showtime” Lakers.
It started in the 1980s…and continues to this day; one could spend an entire evening spotting celebrities in the crowd at a Los Angeles Lakers game.
The Lakers could fill the old Inglewood Forum with a veritable “Who’s Who of Hollywood.” However, 24 hours later in the very same building, the crowd at a Los Angeles Kings game looked more like a bunch a guys who took the bus from Hollywood Boulevard. Picture 2,000 real-life inspirations for Bob and Doug McKenzie…and one dopey kid who would go from burgeoning hockey fan to the world’s most interesting independent sports blogger…all shoe-horned into the 15,000-seat Forum.
That was the Kings’ “fan base.” One American kid and two thousand Canadian stocking caps with flannel shirt shirts full of smuggled Molson beer and bottles in various states of consumed clinking around under mostly empty seats.
That was until 1988 when a young and upcoming Hollywood producer named Bruce McNall became the outright owner of the Los Angeles Kings. Most notable for films like WarGames and Weekend at Bernie’s, McNall had a “Brewmeister Smith” style plan to achieve domination of the hockey world.
Step #1 was to make Kings’ games as much of a social event as were those of the Los Angeles Lakers. McNall used his Hollywood connections to this end, and in no time, the “Bob and Dougs” were replaced with a “Lakers” crowd. I knew this was coming the first time I saw “valet” parking at the Forum. I came on the bus, and the “McKenzie’s” had their choice for parking; no matter how you do the math, it’s not hard to put 2,000 Ford vans in a 10,000-space lot. But it was easy to tell something was changing when the limousines started showing up on hockey nights.
Step #2 was the Kings’ uniforms. One day, the “old-school” purple and gold sweaters were replaced with with a sleek, modern, albeit distinctly less colorful look.
Step #3 was the players McNall put in those uniforms. The days of Rogie Vachon and Marcel Dionne were gone. Now the Kings’ star was a kid from Montreàl named Luc Robitaille…and as McNall himself said…nobody had ever heard of him. Granted, I knew, as did the “Bob and Dougs;” we saw Robitaille was a great player. From his first skate in Los Angeles, Robitalle was destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame; in 1987 he won the Calder Trophy (given to the league’s best rookie) and made the All-Star team.
But in a city in 1988 where the Los Angeles Dodgers were grabbing all the sports headlines by winning a World Series, and the Kings were overshadowed in their very own building by the “Showtime” Lakers, McNall knew it would take a major move to get the Kings on the Los Angeles sports radar.
Instead of settling for “major,” McNall went “tectonic” when he earthquaked the hockey world by securing a deal with Edmonton Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington to acquire the rights to the biggest star star in the game at the time (and arguably ever)…Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky.
In the summer of 1988, the cracks were showing in the power structure of the National Hockey League. The reigning dynasty of the Edmonton Oilers were rumored to be having financial problems; the rising salaries of the “star” players being at the heart of the matter. Combined with Bruce McNall’s purchase of the Los Angeles Kings, his willingness to spend, and the fact that on July 16th of that year, Gretzky married his long-time girlfriend Hollywood starlet Janet Jones, it didn’t take long for the rumor mill to kick into overdrive.
Hockey’s “royal wedding” took Gretzky from the pages of Sports Illustrated to Variety…and that “Hollywood” publicity only made the best player in the game an even more perfect fit for McNall’s vision of the Los Angeles Kings. That’s why it only took three weeks for McNall to make a deal with Pocklington.
On August 9th, Pocklington began his dismantling of the Edmonton Oilers by sending centerpiece/centerman Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gélinas, the Kings’ first-round draft picks in 1989, 1991, and 1993, along with something Pocklington really needed…$15 million in cash. This trade succeeded for McNall far beyond landing the “star power” he wanted for his team…this transcended the sports world.
Headlines across North America heralded tales of Peter Pocklington being burned in effigy, Janet “Mrs. Gretzky” Jones being labeled as hockey’s answer to “Yoko Ono;” there were even tales of members of the Canadian House of Commons demanding government intervention. Every one of those stories featured the phrase “Los Angeles Kings,” and McNall knew there was no such thing as “bad publicity,” especially when it’s free.
Pocklington and McNall both sold their souls in this deal, but it was the Los Angeles Kings that lost theirs. Pocklington kept selling off the Oilers until eventually he sold the team altogether. McNall’s “Brewmeister Smith” plan fell just short of the ultimate goal; the Kings never won a Stanley Cup under McNall. The closest they came was a loss to the Montreàl Canadiens in the Cup Final in 1993.
But what the Kings really lost was their fan base. To pay for all the new trappings of the Kings, McNall jacked ticket p[rices through the ceiling. This worked as long as the limousines kept rolling up in front of the Forum on hockey night. But when the winning didn’t come, neither did the “Hollywood” crowd.
Thanks to the boosted ticket prices, the “Bob and Dougs” quit coming to the Forum; so did that goofy kid who still has a puck that made it’s way into the seats off the stick of power-mustached Vic Venasky. We were happy to get our puck fix on television.
As a result, McNall’s free-spending put him in dire financial straits and he was forced to sell the team in 1995 as part of a bankruptcy settlement.
By 1996, the Kings were back to being a middling-to-crap team, and nearing the end of his career, Wayne Gretzky demanded a trade to a contending team.
As a result, he was shipped to the St. Louis Blues, and the Kings would spend the better part of the next 15 years circling the drain of the NHL. It would take until 2012 for the Los Angeles Kings to capture Lord Stanley’s Cup when they were led there by head coach Darryl Sutter…a guy from Viking, Alberta who totally looks likes he could be related to Bob and Doug McKenzie.
The Moral of The Story:
Hockey and beer…two great things that go great together. Thank you Canada for that contribution to world culture.
P.S. Bruce McNall had a real connection to the very same SCTV which produced Bob and Doug McKenzie. He would end up as business partners with Wayne Gretzky and SCTV alum John Candy when together they purchased the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts in 1991.
P.P.S. Edmonton may have lost Wayne Gretzky, but the city got the statue of the “Great White North’s” two favorite brothers. Considering Gretzky never won a Stanley Cup after leaving Edmonton, I’d say “The Oil Capital of Canada” got the better of the deal.
P.P.P.S. If you thought that a dedicated “Rush-o-phile” was going to write about Bob and Doug McKenzie without mentioning their Geddy Lee-led novelty hit Take Off, you would be a “hoser.”
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