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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 13:33 GMT
Curling hits Canada's big screen
James Allodi is Neil Bucyk, Jed Rees is Eddie Strombeck, Paul Gross is Chris Cutter and Peter Outerbridge is Jim Lennox
Ready for action: Men with Brooms
By Mike Fox in Montreal

The Winter Olympics put the sport of curling firmly on the map in Britain and Canada thanks to edge-of-the-seat medal battles, including the gold-medal victory by the Scottish team skippered by Rhona Martin.

Now a new Canadian movie is getting the sport even more coverage.

The backers of the film, a comedy called Men With Brooms, are hoping that it will change the look of the Canadian film industry as well as promote the game.

It is the first time anyone can remember a home-grown film receiving the type of promotion usually reserved for Hollywood films.

Leslie Neilsen [R] plays Paul Gross's father
Leslie Neilsen [R] plays Paul Gross's father
It opened this weekend in about 200 cinemas across the country - usually Canadian films manage to get shown in only 20 or at best 30 screens in their crucial opening run.

"The reason Canadians haven't gone to see their films in the past is because they aren't marketed properly," said Leslie Neilsen of Naked Gun fame, one of the stars of the all-Canadian movie.

"They come and go and no one knew they were in town - but this one has been given a real play and there's no one across Canada who doesn't know that it's coming out."

Paul Grose
Gross previously starred in Due South
The film is backed by a CAN$1.1m (488,000) promotional budget which included TV and cinema advertisements.

This was a big commitment for backers Alliance Atlantis, bearing in mind the entire budget for the film is CAN$ 7.5 million (3.3 million).

The company is waiting to see how successful the film is before negotiating overseas distribution, hoping a good Canadian run will encourage more countries to show the film.

Men With Brooms is set in small-town Canada, where four estranged friends get back together to try to win the Golden Broom, the national curling championship they came so close to winning 10 years earlier.

Curling
Curling is popular in Canada
The film features numerous curling sequences, and explains the rules and much of the jargon of the game along the way.

The main star is Paul Gross, the clean-cut Mountie from TV series Due South, who also co-wrote and directed the film.

"I wanted to tell a story about how we are knit together and find a shared commonality," he told the BBC.

"A big curling tournament was on the TV. It was a game I knew nothing about but I was captivated by it.

"I thought this was perfect, it's essentially naive in the best sense of the word, amateur, and that seemed to me the best backdrop for what I wanted to do."

Dramatic

While he was making the film he discovered just how popular the sport is in Canada, where more than 20,000 people take part on a regular basis.

"I had no idea there were that many curlers - and what's really interesting is that in Toronto which is fairly cosmopolitan and cynical - people I have known there for 10 or 15 years revealed to me that they were curlers - it was like they were in the closet."

Leslie Neilsen plays Paul's father, with hardly any of the slapstick moves most of his fans would expect to see.

Their relationship is one of several relatively serious and dramatic moments in the film.

"We have unfinished business to attend to that has caused a rift between us," Neilsen told the BBC.

Mixed reaction

"There's a very serious and moving scene - I'm very happy to be doing something in my craft that I haven't used for a long time."

There is also an ensemble of leading Canadian actors, including Molly Parker and Peter Outerbridge, and cameo appearances and songs on the soundtrack by the Tragically Hip.

But critical reaction to the film has been decidedly mixed.

The national Globe and Mail newspaper said: "Men With Brooms is a movie that wants very badly to be liked, but the blend of Full Monty-style sentimentality and anything-for-a-smirk comic high-shticking rapidly wears thin."

The Ottawa Citizen described it as a "gem of a movie", saying the film is full of Canadian stereotypes, and "goes so far over the top that it comes around, full circle, to being funny again".

But for the film's backers, the crucial verdict will be those box-office returns which will show whether their promotional gamble has paid off.

See also:

22 Feb 02 | Scotland
Sweeping praise for curling team
10 Mar 02 | Other Sports
Martin falls in the final
21 Feb 02 | Funny Old Game
Curling - the new Pop Idol?
22 Feb 02 | Curling
Conversion of the curling kind
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