It’s been quite a few years since Slap Shot, George Roy Hill’s hilariously caustic ode to the great sport of ice hockey, showcased Paul Newman and a motley crew of players swapping wallops and witticisms with competitors and team-mates alike: 35 years to be exact. But its no matter because its influence clearly weighs very heavily on Goon, the latest mainstream outing from Director Michael Dowse who so effortlessly captured Canadian hoser wild life in low budget cult favourites Fubar and Fubar II. In fact, it’s Dowse’s innate loony sensibility (and the very funny screenplay from actor and co-star Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg) that keeps the often perverse and always unapologetically dim-bulb movie from skating over onto thin ice.
Lovable doofus Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) works as a bouncer in Massachusetts and desperately tries to live up to the expectations of his successful Dad (Eugene Levy). One night, while defending the honour of his mouthy best friend (Baruchel) at a minor league hockey game, Doug’s caught on video knocking out a behemoth of a guy and gets an offer to join the local team as an enforcer. Doug, who can scarcely skate and is mentally a couple pucks short of a Shakespeare play, has a true gift for violence and a seemingly titanium set of bones, so its not a shock when he’s quickly tapped to join a popular minor league team in Nova Scotia called the Halifax Highlanders.
His job with the Highlanders is to deliberately spread mayhem on the ice and protect the ass of the team’s star player Xavier Laflamme who’s lost his confidence and belief in the game after getting knocked out by notorious hockey badass Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber, in a genius bit of casting). Doug’s particular brand of beating the opposing players to a bloody pulp (which he does almost apologetically – he’ll knock you out, then help you to the ambulance) makes him a national celebrity, and sets him up for the ultimate faceoff with the soon-to-be-retiring Rhea.
Doug also attracts the attention of a young hockey groupie named Eva (Alison Pill) who gives him the confidence to stand up to his parents and the increasingly badly behaved Laflamme as much as he gives her the confidence to (as she puts it) “stop sleeping with a bunch of guys.”
While it’s true that Goon may never win any big Oscar-level accolades, its irreverent, ribald humour that’s infused with a heart of gold is refreshing in a time when most mainstream comedy films are written by studio committee and test-marketed to death in order to avoid scandalizing the masses. Goon means to offend you (in a good-natured way, of course) and it all but throws that fact in your face.
Dowse keeps the hockey scenes fast, forceful and thrilling (I watched the film with a roomful of major league players and Hockey Night in Canada employees and they were both physically and audibly reacting) and the story beats moving along at a swift pace, ensuring there’s nary a moment to get bored.
The film is based on the book by former minor league enforcer Doug Smith and Baruchel and Goldberg (who also wrote Superbad, Pineapple Express and The Green Hornet), have managed to maintain the essence of what hockey fans love about the sport while creating characters who feel well-rounded and interesting even when the story occasionally stalls. The humour is also unabashedly crass and provides many laugh-out-loud moments of the “I can’t believe I’m laughing at this” variety.
Basically, whether you give a flying puck about hockey or not, Goon will definitely provide an entertaining diversion from the February blahs and may even leave you cheering for more.