Slap Shot, the 1977 comedy starring Paul Newman, stands as one of the best sports movies of all time. The laughs still hold up, and the story never ceases to invigorate. For hockey players and fans, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Now comes Goon, starring Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Liev Schreiber and Alison Pill. Its story is very similar to Slap Shot, and its payoff is fairly effective. Although it doesn’t eclipse the 1977 classic (few films can), Goon is a nice entry in the sports film hall of fame.
Doug Glatt (Scott) is a screwup in life, at least to his parents. He bounces at a local bar and doesn’t have many prospects. He’s likable and sincere, but doesn’t know how to put his strengths to good use. His best friend is Ryan (Baruchel), a foul-mouthed guy with an Internet talk show about the local hockey scene.
But, as these stories go, Doug is made for bigger and better things.
After insulting a hockey player at the local rink, Doug gets into a bloody fist fight that doesn’t end so well for the other guy. This incident, caught on camera by Ryan, essentially launches Doug’s career in semi-pro hockey. With no experience or skill at iceskating, the footage of him beating up the hockey player attracts the eyes of a Canadian coach, and from that point on it’s all black eyes and bloody teeth.
Along the way, there’s the obligatory girlfriend, Eva (Pill), plus the crazy coach, Ronnie Hortense (Kim Coates). Schreiber plays the villain in the story, but his entire character doesn’t seem to fit. As Ross Rhea, a hotshot bruiser who’s set to retire, Schreiber plays the part well, but the character feels underwritten and underdeveloped. He comes off as a stand-in for a bad guy.
Directed by Michael Dowse and written by Baruchel and Evan Goldberg (based on the book by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith), Goon has its bumps and bruises, but it’s a largely funny experience and succeeds much more than it should. Having Doug Glatt come off as a nice guy with a penchant for punching people’s lights out makes for a nice character. Scott knows how to balance the two extremes perfectly, and the role definitely suits his comedic talents. Some of the most effective and sweet scenes involve Scott, Pill and their burgeoning relationship.
Like so many sports films, Goon eventually falls into the trap of a big splashy ending surrounding one final contest. Cue the swelling music. Cue the slow motion. Cue one last brawl between Ross Rhea and Doug Glatt. You know how this ends, but at least it’s fun getting to that point.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Directed by Michael Dowse
Written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg
Starring Seann William Scott, Baruchel, Alison Pill, Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy and Kim Coates
Running time: 91 minutes
Rated R for brutal violence, non-stop language, some strong sexual content and drug use