'Miller's Playground' has that been-there, skied-that feel
by Janice Page
Miller Time is now Moseley Time? Talk about less filling. . .
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"Playground," the latest ski action film to carry Warren Miller's name but very little of his handiwork, features direction by frequent Miller stand-in Max Bervy ("Impact," "Higher Ground," "Off the Grid") and narration by former Olympian Jonny Moseley.
This is great news for Moseley, a likable guy who seems exceptionally well suited to hosting MTV's "Real World/Road Rules Challenge." It's a less positive turn of events for longtime Miller fans who have watched their retired hero's once charming, organically thrilling franchise become less unique and more commercial with each 21st-century installment.
"Playground" again comes prefaced by the words "Jeep presents," and while the product placements remain at something less than NASCAR level, they continue to make their mark in the snow. Unfortunately, little of the action brands itself as distinctively.
If you've seen even one of these slip-sliding documentaries lately (this is Warren Miller Entertainment's 58th feature), you know they're all about wild rides, big air, and even bigger wipeouts. In "Playground," Bervy and his crew travel to Colorado, Alaska, British Columbia, Sweden, Japan, and even the desert dunes of Dubai in search of something to impress the powder junkies who've seen it all. They find a new crop of treacherous descents reachable only by air. They tag along with fearless cliff jumpers and nimble snow boarders. They outrun avalanches and hang with whoever's currently making a name shredding the slopes. And of course they set everything to a high-voltage soundtrack pumped full of bands like Radio Citizen, Maroon 5, Beastie Boys, and Queens of the Stone Age.
Less expected are some quieter moments that are included with mixed success. A profile of Bode Miller seems promising but stops at an ankle-deep portrait of the controversial downhill racer. Scenes from a visit to Japan amaze not with daredevil stunts but with shimmering visuals that give the effect of skiing inside a Japanese painting.
Though Warren Miller's voice is heard in a few vintage snippets, for the most part it's Moseley's ski-dude narration that sets the tone. This fits well with a goofy segment celebrating Brigham Young University's makeshift "water weenie" toboggan, but it's not as suited to describing Dubai, where a massive indoor ski resort actually seems less incongruous than Moseley using scripted language like "postmodern cultural crossroads."
It's a given that "Playground" expertly navigates every slope and stair railing it encounters; the letdown is that it doesn't have a personality all its own.
Miller Time was an event. Moseley Time is just your average happy hour.