This is a reprint of our review from January, from the film’s release in the U.K.
Ice hockey might be huge in certain parts of the world — Canada, principally — but the U.K. is not one of them. It exists, but it’s never exactly been a phenomenon, short of a few curious people tuning in around the Winter Olympics, and movies focusing on the sport, even one as great as George Roy Hill‘s minor classic “Slap Shot,” have traditionally been given short shrift over here (although we do have fond memories of seeing the first “Mighty Ducks” in theaters).
As such, it feels odd that “Goon,” a brutal comedy based around the sport, from the pen of hockey-loving Apatow grads Jay Baruchel (star of “Undeclared” and “Knocked Up“) and Evan Goldberg (co-writer, with Seth Rogen, of “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express“), would go on wide release in Britain this weekend, weeks before it hits theaters in North America. But nevertheless, go on wide release it has, and The Playlist was there to check it out.
The film is undoubtedly indebted to “Slap Shot” in its blend of sport-on-skates, ultraviolence and foul-mouthed chuckles, but whereas Hill focused on the coach, Baruchel, Goldberg and Canadian director Michael Dowse (“F.U.B.A.R,” “Take Me Home Tonight“) take as their protagonist a player, in this case a particularly talented headbreaker, Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott).
Doug is the youngest son of a Jewish Massachussets family, but is not exactly blessed with the brains of his doctor father (Eugene Levy) and brother (David Paetkau). Indeed, the only thing he’s ever been good at, due to his job as a bouncer, is punching people in the face. When taking in a hockey game with best friend Ryan (Baruchel), he ends up in a fight with a player, and his skills come to the attention of a local coach, who offers him a tryout. Soon his brawling sees him transferred north of the border, to the struggling Halifax Highlanders, in the hope he’ll encourage a recovery in drug-addled star player Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), and he finds himself targeted by both beautiful hockey fan Eva (Alison Pill), and a fading brawler on the edge of retirement (Liev Schreiber).
Perhaps it’s the curse of the sports movie — we’re not sure anything in the genre will ever manage to transcend the established formula — but Goon is not terribly ground-breaking. Still, it is a pretty amiable way to spend 90 minutes, thanks particularly to a career-best performance from Scott. The actor’s been pretty much absent from screens since “Role Models” in 2008, but he’s almost unrecognizable here, a hulking beast of a man, and a million miles away from the mouthy douchebags on which he made his name. Doug is pretty much a dum-dum, a holy fool who breaks teeth with the utmost politeness, and Scott gives him a sweet innocence, tempered with just enough self-awareness to make him a human being and not, say, The Waterboy.
Indeed, for the most part, the actors manage to give extra texture to their parts: Schreiber is superb as the handlebar-moustached veteran who knows his time on top is coming to an end, but still wants a chance to kick his upstart challenger in the solar plexus; while Pill overcomes the barely-existent-on-the-page nature of her character (clearly female leads are not the writers’ strong point, as evidenced by Goldberg’s “Pineapple Express” and “The Green Hornet“) by being utterly charming. Doug’s teammates, too, are made up of a winning collection of Canadian character actors who bring color and plenty of laughs. In fact, the only one not to really stick the landing is Baruchel himself, who’s mostly irritating as the sex-obsessed best mate, although he’s largely absent for the second and third acts of the film.
He has at least delivered, for the most part, on the scripting front; the screenplay is consistently chuckleworthy, both thanks to the frequent violence (shot with admirable brutality, blood and teeth frequently splattering onto ice), and relatively sharp dialogue, mixed with a smattering of odd non-sequiturs (a moment involving a drawing of a wolf was a particular favorite). And, unlike most modern comedies, it runs a lean 90 minutes, Dowse zipping through the storytelling with welcome economy.
What the helmer can’t do so well, however, is moderate the tone. “Goon” can never quite decide what it wants to be; a straight sports movie, a wacky, “Semi-Pro“-style full-on comedy, or something in between. Doug veers from relatively lucid to Brick Tamland, and the film around him is pretty scrappy and rough around the edges, even with that brisk running time. It feels like a megamix of a half-a-dozen films all featuring the same cast, and that stops the finished product from ever flying.
All the same, it’s a more enjoyable watch than we were expecting, thanks principally to Scott, who should get a good boost off it. And so it’ll serve as a decent rental, or drunken Friday night big-screen outing when it hits American shores, but the execution is never effective enough to make it anything more. [C+]
“Goon” is in U.K cinemas now, will land on VOD and in Canadian theaters on February 24th, and in U.S. theaters on March 30th.