It’s not like he hasn’t been in movies before. The feather-haired frontman has appeared in Moonlight and Valentino, U-571, and Pay it Forward. And everyone knows he’s got a million-dollar smile, not to mention a fan base that spans the globe. But his famous charm doesn’t help Bon Jovi’s performance as ex-attorney Frank Hopper, a down-on-his-luck dreamer whose life and entrepreneurial efforts have been derailed. He lives in his sister’s garage (Dunn), hangs out with a guy half his age (Faustino), and chases his old flame Jessica (Estella Warren), who reminds him, “You used to be a damn good lawyer!”
Bereft of any comic chops, Bon Jovi must carry scenes exclusively on the basis of his good looks, which works for about 10 minutes. For one thing, he doesn’t act the part: bristling with confidence and charisma, the photogenic rocker is entirely unbelievable as a serial loser. Supposedly desperate, Frank embellishes his income on a credit application and soon finds himself the beneficiary of a windfall of pre-approved gold cards, suddenly capable of bringing his dream to fruition. This dream: to build a professional women’s hockey league. This would all be fun if Pucked took itself either a bit more seriously, a la Major League, or went for full-on parody, like Dodgeball. Making no clear decision, it hovers somewhere between straight-to-video and the trash bin.
The incompetent script is also devoid of laughs. Apart from an early sequence packed with awkward scatological and physical humor, Pucked then goes on for half an hour until it lobs another joke. Despite an R rating for sexuality and nudity (a Lampoon trademark), this film doesn’t even feature much in that department, just background teasers and lame innuendo. Not that it matters much. The female hockey players (dubbed “Foxes” and “Swans”) look like they failed the Fear Factor auditions, that is, they lack interest or seeming intelligence, which is supposed to be funny. Their few action scenes are poorly framed and unimaginative, even by Lampoon’s standards. When the players finally take the ice, an hour into the movie, the hockey is bad and it’s filmed like a high school practice. Even the ringside “fans” look bored.
Such lack of energy hardly fits National Lampoon’s reputation, built on the success of Animal House (1978) and Vacation (1983). The Lampoon demographic expects irreverence, parody, and a large helping of sex, none finding its way into Pucked. Director Arthur Hiller also has a considerable resume, including The Out-of-Towners and Outrageous Fortune. Successful genre films, they showcased Hiller’s talent for eliciting strong comedic performances. But Miller’s best work appears to be behind him. Ironically, his most recent effort was the industry satire Alan Smithee Presents: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997), about a director who, faced with “creative differences,” takes his name off a failed production. It’s hard to say how Pucked ended up in Hiller’s lap, but the man is no stranger to the Hollywood machine, and should have known better than to go public with this tripe.