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Film Review: Way of the Puck

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Photo courtesy Way of the Puck.
All of the ingredients are there: the doughy white guys, the semi-obscure passion, the earnest effort at legitimization, and the occasional shrug to the camera by every bit player that just says ‘oh, those boys’. Yet Way of the Puck somehow fails to hold the same charm, humor, and audience as contemporaries like King of Kong.

Those fans of the nerd-obsessive smirky documentary genre may already be familiar with Way of the Puck, which features a core group of slightly aging men who compete at the highest levels of air hockey, which ultimately culminates in the World Championships in Las Vegas. Beyond that narrow scope, we learn a lot about the lives of many key players in the field, as well as the “sports’” history and troubled future. Loosely chronicling one year (between World Championships), the film actually pulls archival air hockey footage (where such a thing exists is beyond this reviewer) and peppers in anecdotes and moments that show a larger breadth of time spent focusing on the subject.

The problem is, the main players aren’t compelling enough to keep the quirky-but-cute storyline afloat. As such, the investment in the outcome remains somewhat minimal, which leads to the death knell question of any documentary: “why do we care?”. At least here, director Eric Anderson shows a steady hand: we care because, frankly, he cares. It may be an activity that doesn’t translate cleanly to the screen, a pastime without marketable personalities that sink deep into an audience’s psyche, but Anderson clearly has a love for the game that is undeniable.

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Way of the Puck eschews a more linear traditional story arc in favor of following several plotlines over time, including the history of the sport and the introduction of at least one major player (Michael) over half an hour into the 81 minute jaunt. And while this, too, could be a recipe for apathy, it really comes to show the true passion that Anderson has for the subject. The film takes on the feeling of an excited child showing off his bedroom (or Mark ‘The Guru’ showing off his collection of old Brunswick air hockey tables). It’s a bit erratic, at times overdone, but brimming with potential and really, fun.

It’s a shame that Way of the Puck isn’t able to mirror other, more popular docs of the same genre. In a time of Americana resurgence here at home, the headline ‘Air Hockey Hopefuls Make Good’ seems halfway written already. Yet, without strong enough characters to inspire an audience, Way of the Puck instead floats to the center line, neither failing itself or excelling at the game it came to play.

Way of the Puck is currently available on DVD, via Amazon, or on their website.