Hockey fans don't have all that many movies to call their own. Oh sure, young movie buffs probably still have fond recollections of Disney's Mighty Ducks franchise (good lord), and those who are slightly older will no doubt recall Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze falling in love in 1984's Youngblood. But for real classics of ice rink cinema, your choices are slim: there's the forgettable Mystery Alaska, and Kurt Russell certainly brought a lot of class to Miracle a few years back -- and then there's Slap Shot. A true classic of down 'n' dirty '70s comedy cinema (and written by an Oscar winner, a female one!), Slap Shot is sort of the Casablanca of hockey movies -- and it's wonderfully evident that the guys behind Goon have a deep and obvious affection for that bruising George Roy Hill / Paul Newman sports farce.
I feel confident that director Michael Dowse and co-writers Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel will take this as a big compliment, as well they should: not only is Goon presented in the same bad-ass, foul-mouthed, blood-soaked style as Slap Shot -- it also manages to explain the importance of teamwork in hockey. Goon squeezes a lot of likable components into its 92-minute frame, but it's the flick's palpable affection for Canada's favorite sport that keeps it from devolving into just another profanity-laden piece of sports-related cinematic formula. Indeed the filmmakers, to their extreme credit, find a way to subvert even the most familiar of "sports flicks" cliches; Goon is only partially about "the cool team winning the big game," and it's the character-based material that makes Goon a comedy that even the sports haters could enjoy.
Seann William Scott, an underrated comedic actor if ever there was one, plays a lovable lug called Doug Glatt. Clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed, Doug makes up for his unimpressive intellect with a lot of heart, character, and sweetness. Oh, and also: Doug Glatt could BEAT YOUR ASS. He's not a bully or a troublemaker, but if you happen to piss Doug off through your own ignorance, well, you're going to lose some teeth. Dude's a brawler, period. Following an amusing display of pugilism at a local hockey game, Doug is enlisted to join the team as an enforcer. Forget that Doug can't score (and can barely skate), because he's being enlisted for his fists.
But wouldn't you know it? There's a real warrior lurking beneath the surface of the perpetually pleasant (and sometimes clueless) Mr. Glatt, and his tenure on the ice rink is a colorful one indeed: he befriends some players and infuriates others. He meets a pretty girl; learns some harsh truths about the game he loves; gives a few low-key lessons of his own; and (eventually) butts heads with Ross Rhea, one of the most intimidating brawlers to ever lace up the skates. If I've made Goon sound like a checklist of sports movie tropes and conventions, think again: this is a sweet character-based comedy that just happens to be awash in broken teeth and non-stop profanity.
Aside from Mr. Scott and his fantastic supporting cast, it's the screenplay that's the star here. Adapted by Goldberg and Baruchel from the book "Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey," Goon offers ideas both admirably direct and slyly subtle (hockey fans will notice a dozen little touches that could only come from filmmakers who know and love the game), and somehow avoids falling into the same exact plot structure of virtually every sports-centric comedy that comes down the line. It's true that there are lots of slap shots, broken jaws, and slick skating tricks to keep the hockey fans happy, but even better is the foundation beneath all the silliness: the ideas that teamwork matters, that you need someone in your corner when you go to war, that you can "hate" your opponent while still respecting the hell out of them, and that every player on a team, even a thug, has an important role to play.
As a longtime fan of Seann William Scott's comedic skills, I'm not at all surprised to see him bring a warmth and sweetness to the role of Doug Glatt. Here he's playing a slow-witted guy who KNOWS he isn't all that bright, which is sort of an intelligence all its own, but Scott never plays Doug as an idiot. It's the inherent nobility of a character that, in most movies, would be painted as a smiling moron. It helps that Doug Glatt is based on a real guy, of course, but fair credit to Scott for infusing his potentially one-note character with a lot of warmth, wit, and confidence. The actor is more than capably supported by a supporting cast that includes Alison Pill (new girlfriend), Kim Coates (tough coach), and co-writer Baruchel, who pops up intermittently to deliver something loud, raunchy, and amusing. It's also worth noting that Goon features a frankly excellent performance by Liev Schreiber as Ross Rhea, the old pro Doug most wants to emulate. Not only does Schreiber (and his handlebar mustache) look the part, but the seasoned character actor brings a wonderful sense of cynicism, world-weariness, and begrudging respect to the Ross Rhea character. In a movie packed with great components, Schreiber is one of the very best.
So yes, Goon is easily the best hockey comedy since 1977's Slap Shot, and that's a solid claim on its own, but Goon is also a whole lot better than just another scrappy sports farce. For all its surface-level vulgarity and gleeful violence, Goon is actually quite a sweet, insightful, and powerfully effective little movie. It's not JUST for hockey fans, but, boy, are they gonna love this movie.
Goon is now playing in theaters across Canada. It is also available via various VOD platforms in the U.S., ahead of its limited theatrical release on March 30. Check the respective official sites, linked below, for more information.