The Fashionably Late Review: Goon
Let’s get one thing out in the open. I know exactly two things about hockey: jack & shit. But I thought Goon ably carried on the tradition of great sports comedies like Major League and Wildcats.
These movies are formulaic, but the formula works. A misfit of some sort (or a group of misfits) must overcome obstacles and self-doubt to win The Big Game. There are simple character motivations, like Making Dad Proud or Getting the Girl. There are a few basic peripheral characters: the Wisecracking Announcer, the Zany Teammates, the Wacky Best Friend, The Girl, and The Nemesis. Lather, rinse, repeat. But we keep watching. We like to see the little guy make it. We like to see him (or her) grit his teeth and make the shot. Goon has all of these things. Add a clever script and some nuanced and hilarious performances, and baby you got a stew going!
Goon‘s Doug Glatt (a pitch-perfect Sean William Scott) is a working-class schmoe in Boston. When he’s not bouncing at a local dive bar, he’s disappointing his dad (Eugene Levy) and watching hockey with Wacky Best Friend Ryan (Jay Baruchel). Doug is a simple man; not necessarily stupid, just frank, loyal, and unambitious. He just wants to do his job and enjoy a beer after the game. After beating the crap out of a player at a hockey game for using an anti-gay slur, Doug catches the attention of the coach and is invited on the team as an “enforcer.” His job involves very little actual hockey playing. He’s there to forge an imposing defensive path so others can score, or exact retribution upon opposing players and “take one for the team.” Over and over. Game after game. Doug “The Thug” is good at what he does and in short time moves up the ranks to a minor-league team, the Halifax Highlanders, to act as protection for their star player. Enter The Girl, Eva (Alison Pill), a self-described “slut” who cheats on her bookish boyfriend with hockey players but is clearly charmed by Doug’s unflappable authenticity. Enter the Zany Teammates, including a sad-sack team captain in the midst of a divorce, a strung out goalie with an outrageous Canadian accent (“Two rules, man: Stay away from my fookin’ percocets and do ya have any fookin’ percocets?”), and two Russian ex-pats who make WAY too many dick jokes. As Doug’s status increases, the hockey world begins to speculate that he will eventually have to go up against The Nemesis, Ross “The Boss” Rhea (a handlebar-mustachioed Liev Schreiber), a rival team’s veteran enforcer on the verge of retirement.
Big game. Face-off with Nemesis. Score. Roll credits.
We get the training montage, some side-splittingly funny lines, a few minutes of real sports action, and some fist-pumping exaltation at the end. I know this all sounds rather dismissive; it’s not like the audience doesn’t know exactly what’s going to happen from the minute the movie starts, but movies like Goon are no less watchable for it. Sean William Scott really nails the simple, good-natured thug. He manages to play Doug just a little dumb without going full-retard. Later in the movie, when Doug and Ross have their first meeting, the mutual respect goes hand-in-hand with the palpable menace as Rhea makes it clear he’s not going out like a chump. Liev Schreiber reaches almost Rourkeian levels of grizzledness as he delivers the killer line:
…Know dis shit hard. If ever there comes a time when it gets down to the marrow, and it’s you n’ me…. kid, I will lay you da fook out.
Goon was co-written by Baruchel, himself a hockey fan and proud Canadian (eh), but here he plays a pretty stereotypical American hockey hooligan. And I’m sure he had nothing to do with the selection of Rush’s “Working Man” for the aforementioned training montage (a rather inspired choice in my opinion). Baruchel really knows the game; there’s a lot of love here. The movie is loosely adapted from the autobiography of real hockey enforcer Doug Smith and the script includes several references to famous fights in hockey’s history. There is violence aplenty. The later fight scenes feature a pretty slick over-the-shoulder fixed-camera view so the audience can really get a feel for the rough and tumble. And honestly, the fake blood budget must rival that of any recent Mel Gibson gorefest.
If it means anything to you, dear reader, Goon enjoys a score of 83% from Rotten Tomatoes and received generally positive reviews during its admittedly short time in theaters. Fans of any of these top sports comedies should love it. But it also receives the Official TBTS Stamp of Approval, and that’s the only endorsement you need… eh.