Contrived, dull, and trite, the Canadian-made hockey drama Face Off would be negligible if not for the inclusion of many real-life NHL players and footage of the athletes plying their trade. Given the shabby storyline, however, even hardcore hockey fans will have a tough time sitting through the whole thing. Brace yourself for clichés: Protagonist Billy Duke (Art Hindle) is a rookie player whose talent is undermined by anger-management issues; his girlfriend, folksinger Sherry Nelson (Trudy Young), is a gentle spirit who hates the violence associated with hockey; Billy’s coach, Fred Wares (John Vernon), tries to separate Billy and Sherry so Billy can focus on training and winning; and Sherry’s manager, Joe MacMillan (Steve Pirnie), has romantic designs on Sherry, resulting in a love triangle. Oh, and Sherry gets addicted to drugs, too. Written by George Robertson and directed by George McCowan, Face Off feels like a made-for-TV tearjerker—think stiff dialogue, noxious music, and tedious montage sequences. Face Off is best when it hits the ice, because the scenes of hockey players swooshing past each other in between brawls have a certain innate energy that the mediocre filmmaking cannot suppress. The trouble kicks in whenever the hockey stops. For instance, Hindle must try to keep a straight face while delivering the following dialogue to Sherry: “I’m younger and stronger and tougher. That’s why you dig me.” Hindle, who has enjoyed a long but not particularly distinguished career in both American and Canadian films, has a comfortable vibe onscreen, but his performance is not a cause for excitement. Young’s work invites even less praise, so it falls to reliable veteran Vernon—chewing scenery as always—to give the picture bite. He does what he can with a one-dimensional role. Like a lot of low-rent sports flicks, Face Off eventually moves into a zone where it’s less about sports and more about the angst of uninteresting characters, but until that happens, the NHL gets loads of screen time; many of the people portraying commentators, executives, and players are actual NHL personalities of the early ’70s, including iconic skaters Jean Béliveau, Gordie Howe, and Derek Sanderson.
Face Off: FUNKY