Sure ain’t Slap Shot, but it sure has charm.
Goon is about a super nice, simple-minded guy living in a dead-end town with a dead-end job bouncing the graveyard shift at a dead-end bar. He tries to make his family proud, but alas, you gotta have brains to be a doctor. Then one fateful night, he goes to a hockey game where his BFF starts running his mouth to one of the players, thus compelling the said player to jump the glass with the intent of physically shutting said mouth. Not one to stand by and watch his BFF eat his own teeth, the bouncer intervenes, effortlessly beats the tar out of the player, and becomes the night’s main attraction. The next day, he gets a call from the opposing team’s coach and, despite having the skating abilities of a one-legged horse, gets drafted for the sole purpose of beating the shit out of the best players on the other teams. He does his job so well, in fact, that he makes his way up to the big leagues where he uses his God-given talents to pick his team up by their bootstraps after having the morale knocked out of them by the biggest enforcer in the game.
If the Hanson brothers were one guy (not those Hanson brothers, dammit) and he was as pleasant off the ice as he was bloodthirsty on it, this would be his story. It’s got “Slap Shot with Stifler” written all over it, and with that connection comes some pros and cons. Now, since this isn’t a Slap Shot review, I’ll keep this short and sweet: Slap Shot is overrated. First half-hour is hilarious and it’s hilarious when they’re on the ice, but people tend to forget how boring the rest of it is. That’s coming from someone who worships at the altar of Paul Newman. It’s still a good movie and it’s still one of the best hockey movies we’ve got, it’s just not the be-all-end-all that it’s cracked up to be.
Which brings us to Goon: a spiritual reboot with all the same pros and cons, only way, way bloodier. For example: the first half-hour is funny, the best scenes are all on the ice, and everything in between leaves something to be desired. Awfully familiar, right?
As for the pros, the story is fine, it’s actually probably better than Slap Shot‘s now that I think about it. It’s got heart to spare and it’s easy to get invested because everyone loves the underdog, it’s just the finer points that keeps hitting snags. The plot feels rushed, there are too many running gags that keep falling flat and refuse to die off, and a lot of times when it is funny, it’s too random for its own good. Not enough hockey-related humor, more than enough humor that has absolutely nothing to do with hockey. Could be wrong though considering that the last time I was in a hockey team locker room was sleep-away camp in fourth grade, a time when crying in the fetal position was more likely than a fight. On top of that, there are more stock characters in here than you can shake a stick at. Folks who show up for ten seconds, serve their purpose, then disappear into the aether, never to be heard from again. That’s just no good.
Although oddly enough, the best things this movie has going for it are its characters. None of them are developed to their full potential and it’s hard to call some of their conflicts “conflicts,” but what they do have is personality, and that goes a long way. For all the half-assed dialogue that writers Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg give him, it’s hard not to root for Seann William Scott as Doug “The Thug” Glatt. The dude wouldn’t hurt a fly, but if bleeding’s what it takes to make his teams whole again, then that’s what he’s gonna do. He reminds me of a young Dirk Diggler in a lot of ways, before he got into all that cocaine nonsense. Just a guy with pipe dreams of grandeur who tries to make his family proud with a gift he never knew he had. It’s a fun juxtaposition that makes a two-dimensional character seem three-dimensional, and one that could have been messy had they just written him like a Hanson.
Folks, likability goes a long way, and already liking Seann William Scott to begin with just amplified things further. American Pie, Role Models, and Road Trip all in one resume? We’re talkin’ likability overload up in this piece! Same goes for almost everyone in this movie for that matter, even the “villains.” Liev Schreiber in particular is borderline awesome as Ross Rhea: the biggest goon of them all; the ultimate enforcer; every player’s worst nightmare. Like every other character, Rhea doesn’t have that many layers going for him, but that’s alright because Schreiber makes the most out of ’em. It’s a surprisingly solid performance for this kind of movie and one that I haven’t seen out of Schreiber in, I don’t know, ever. Dude is apparently a badass, as if the handlebar ‘stache wasn’t enough.
Also tend to like Alison Pill, but she’s got the most forgettable character of the lot as Doug’s love interest, Eva; and Jay Baruchel’s got some funny moments as Doug’s BFF, Ryan.
But the thing I wonder about Goon is what kind of service it’s providing? I know it’s a comedy, I know fighting is part of the game (an awesome part at that), and I know I’m totally reading into this far more than is probably necessary, but is this really what the sport needs? After all, this is exactly the kind of stuff that Slap Shot ended up criticizing. As enjoyable as it is, I just feel like the people who start watching the hockey after seeing this are the same people who watch NASCAR for the pile-ups. Granted, hockey could use all the attention it can get, but maybe not the best place to start making introductions is all.
Anyway, getting off the soap box. Back to my original train of thought.
As sloppy as this script is and as much as it kept losing my attention during the last hour, I do feel kinda bad for ganging up on Goon. It’s one of those movies where the more time passes, the less you remember the faults and the more you remember everything that’s so damn endearing about it. For all the blood and missing teeth, Goon somehow makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like there’s a Doug Glatt in all of us waiting to show the world what we’re made of. Still not enough to snag a 7, but not a bad addition to the film canon of one of the greatest sports of all-time, a sport that doesn’t get anywhere near its due in the world of movies or the world in general.
Seriously, watch hockey. You need to be on that bandwagon.