- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by Bob Westal
ome years ago, we are told, producer David Gross set out to rectify what must seem a grave imbalance to north-of-the-border sports fans: the fact that the ultimate movie about Canada's national sport, 1977's "Slapshot," was made in the non-poutine eating United States. Mission accomplished: "Goon" is a Canadian hockey comedy with a capital CANUCK. It oozes Great White North out of its every pore, which I'm glad to say is a lot less disgusting than it sounds.
Inspired by the career of real-life minor league hockey player Doug Smith, "Goon" starts out awkwardly with an unfunny teaser featuring Liev Schreiber as hockey uber-hitman Ross Rhea. Things improve with a set-up that plays like an inversion of 2009's "Big Fan." Hockey loving bouncer Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is attacked by a small-time hockey thug. Turning the tables, the easygoing and somewhat simpleminded Glatt soon finds himself with a brand new career as an ice rink gladiator, despite the fact that he can barely skate. A genius only with his fists, he is eventually tasked with protecting a spoiled star player named Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), who is still recovering from a Ross Rhea-induced concussion.
The good news is that LaFlamme (pronounced "la-phlegm") and Glatt do not develop an unlikely friendship and this is not any kind of a by-the-numbers buddy film. This is the story of a nice guy with an unlikely skill finding his way in a new community and making a number of new friends, such as they are.
Most of all, it's the story of him making one very special new friend. Seann William Scott's true costar here is affecting up-and-comer Alison Pill ("Scott Pilgrim vs. the World") as Eva, an adorably damaged young woman with a boyfriend, but also a definite crush on the semi-clueless Glatt. Slender Apatovian regular Jay Baruchel ("She's Out of My League") is a funny presence as Glatt's pathologically foul-mouthed cable access TV host buddy, but his most significant contributions here appear to have been behind the camera as a writer and co-producer. Living legend Eugene Levy plays down the comedy as Glatt's disapproving father in some of the film's most intriguingly serious scenes, but it's basically an extended cameo.
"Goon" is, in fact, very much an ensemble piece with a terrific set of mostly unknown supporting actors and, on the whole, it's a very well-crafted film. Director Michael Dowse, writers Baruchel and Evan Goldberg (best known for his collaborations with Seth Rogen), and star Seann William Scott are not yet the equals of the "Slapshot" team of helmer George Roy Hill, scripter Nancy Dowd and star Paul Newman, but they come closer than anyone would dare expect. Scott, in particular, is the best kind of surprise.
That's not to say that it's all beer and candied pucks. The offhand treatment of some fairly graphic violence will likely offend those who regard hockey fights as an insult to sportsmanship. To its credit, "Goon" doesn't completely dismiss the matter and allows Eugene Levy's Jewish doctor dad to be the voice of those who can't see a good side to breaking rules and beating people up for a living. It was only hours after seeing the film that I realized that the obligatory father-son make-up scene is not present in "Goon."
It's not just a stereotype to suggest that, in Jewish culture, sports is not emphasized and fighting is frowned upon, at least for those not intending to join the Mossad. Indeed, when Dr. Glatt says that both Doug and his gay M.D. brother (a likable David Paetkau) are adopted, we are inclined to think he may not be joking. Neither Glatt boy looks particularly Jewish, and Doug, in particular, seems to be an alien in his own family.
I was one of the very few critics to express any enthusiasm for director Michael Dowse's prior effort, "Take Me Home Tonight," but I trust I won't be quite so alone this time. Ironically, while Dowse has a far more comically consistent screenplay to work with on "Goon," his work is spottier here. Specifically, the hockey footage is often hard to follow and not as exciting as it should be.
Fortunately, Dowse remains stronger than ever when it comes to ensemble comedy direction, and he brings out the best from Seann William Scott, an actor who may finally get out from under the shadow of Steve Stifler if he can keep up this level of quality. Some of his scenes with Alison Pill, whose character's low self-esteem stems from a bit of sleeping around, reminded me of the unbearably moving courtship between innocent cowboy/outlaw John Wayne and newly reformed prostitute Claire Trevor in John Ford's "Stagecoach." Then again, half the movies I like remind me of "Stagecoach."
As with so many of the best films associated with Judd Apatow alums, from Liev Schreiber's super-goon to an often hilarious turn by Kim Coates ("Sons of Anarchy") as Glatt's supremely surly coach, this is a movie where just about every character who shows up on screen has something interesting going on and where we're consistently being given material that's worth chewing on, at least for a moment. Indeed, hours later I wondered why I was still in a remarkably good and energetic mood after a rather long and weird day. "Goon" had something to do with it.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Magnolia has done an excellent job with the Blu-ray release of “Goon,” packing it full of special features, some of which are actually quite good. There’s a lengthy interview with star Seann William Scott and actor/co-writer Jay Baruchel that goes into a fair amount of detail about the making of the film, while the audio commentary with Baruchel and director Michael Dowse is also worth checking out. Other extras include a “Power Play Mode” that lets you access behind-the-scenes footage during the movie, a decent collection of deleted scenes and outtakes, actor Jonathan Cherry's audition and more.