Fans of the hockey classic Slap Shot will be the group most disappointed with The Chiefs. The sad thing is, it’s aimed at them, proudly boasting its connections with the 1977 rough hockey flick and ending up nothing like that movie. If you can go in expecting something else, you’ll find this a rather dry though mildly effective look at a small group of semi-pro hockey players and little else.
Even the opening moments tease the viewer into thinking this is a higher-class hockey fight tape. Clips of bench-clearing brawls, goalies writhing in pain, numerous one-on-one scuffles, and even a few crowd battles are what The Chiefs portrays. It’s fun, entertaining, and exactly what you expect from a team that considers themselves the real Slap Shot Chiefs.
Then, quite rapidly, The Chiefs changes tone. It’s almost as if after a couple of players explain the injuries they’ve sustained, this documentary switches focuses to the darker side of this style of hockey. We learn some players actually live inside the arena, which is literally across the street from a prison. Others are aging and missing their chance at the pro level. Another agrees to fight in an exhibition boxing match between an opposing player seemingly for the money only (and then takes an absolute beating).
The problem here is that as a film, a lot of this is stretched and pushed. Hockey begins to take a backseat, pushed aside for commitment discussions between a player and his live-in girlfriend. The boxing sequence lasts for a staggering amount of time with some awful music backing it, and it never reaches the dramatic level it should. For a movie that begins its final credit sequence a little over the hour mark, you have to wonder how much they struggled to push the running time this far.
It has nothing to do with wanting a fight tape. There is a side to sports that’s rarely shown, and this is it. It’s just that The Chiefs doesn’t do it in a way that can keep the viewer watching. The final 40 minutes or so never seem to end, and even with a championship celebration, it fails to provide an emotional pull. (It’s still better than the ending to Slap Shot, though anything is better than that.) It’s one for die-hard fans of the sport, but don’t fall for the marketing team’s line on the box.
As a documentary, The Chiefs video quality is unimportant. However, it’s surprising, with strong color and only mild compression problems. Footage shot specifically for this film comes out wonderfully, and even game footage shows up nicely.
Extras are non-existent. The Canadian release was littered with features like a commentary and top 10 fights. This US release barely has anything aside from trailers. (No stars)
Fans of the sport, particularly obscure teams, will likely have a great time with The Chiefs. For a product trying to capture, say, the crowd that loved Miracle or obviously Slap Shot, this is not for them. It’s strictly independent fare, and that’s where it should stay. Its audience isn’t big enough, and the drawn out stretches of nothingness in the documentary itself makes you wonder if this is even a topic fit for a movie in the first place.