I dig sports comedies. Ever since I saw Charlie Sheen pummeling a life-sized piece of sheet metal painted as a batter in Major League, I was hooked. Films like these always had the main characters portrayed as a band of misfits getting into slapstick debauchery, only to finally pull it together at the end to win the big game and get the girl. It seems like an easy formula: The Bad News Bears did it for little league baseball; Major League rocked the formula, and may have inspired the real Cleveland Indians to win a World Series; Adam Sandler did it up for golf in Happy Gilmore; Unnecessary Roughness brought the formula to college football; Paul Newman’s Slap Shot used the formula for hockey, followed up by The Mighty Ducks; Woody Harrelson even got it done in Kingpin for bowling. BOWLING!
Unfortunately, the protagonists in sports comedies have a hard time finding something new to say besides, “I sucked, but I got better and hosed those elite bastards while banging the hot cheerleader.” This leads to making the sports featured more ridiculous instead of trying to change the formula. Think Balls of Fire, BASEketball, and Dodgeball.
So where does that leave Goon, a hockey comedy which focuses on high profile ice enforcers and the players they beat the crap out of? Is it too formulaic, or too off the beaten path of traditional sports for fans to care? Luckily, it falls right in the middle.
Goon is about Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a nice but simpleminded Bostonian bouncer whose brute talents dismay his father’s (Eugene Levy) hopes of at least one successful, eligible son. Glatt’s talent as a bruiser gets him invited to play on a minor league hockey team as an enforcer. With the help of his friend Pat (Jay Baruchel), his brother’s pretty figure skates, and the prerequisite training montage, Doug “The Thug” Glatt becomes a hero to his team, the Halifax Highlanders, their fans, and their women by crushing heads instead of pucks. But he must still face the league’s reigning supreme goon, Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber).
Does it work as a film? Definitely. Scott tones down his in-your-face comedy routine to create the most man-lovable ass-kicker this side of the Canadian border, while Baruchel, who normally has dry humor roles, adds in just enough raunchy humor to keep the movie from getting too cute. While the hockey training montage seems to come on the screen a bit too early, it’s forgivable because the character of Doug Glatt is not something that needs to be fully developed right away. This is an epic, “finding yourself” kind of sports movie, where this development is part of the movie, with just enough dirty jokes along the way to keep the audience laughing.
The main activity of the movie, hockey fighting, is also a developing theme. What begins as a smash-mouth, mixed martial arts melee on ice becomes a respectable gladiator bout between two forces with the sole purpose to “bleed for their team”. The film then shows that, yes, a hockey enforcer can actually play hockey as well, which helps keep Goon from being a hockey-themed exploitation film. Finally, we are given the triumphant, yet sad, end scene for the hockey goon; triumphant, because Glatt not only has accomplished something worthwhile in protecting his team, but he has gained purpose; sad, well, we don’t want to ruin everything for you.
The only issue the film has is this development of empathy at the end. The last twenty minutes are the most moving in the whole movie. We’re talking Rudy moving; Rocky movie; Million Dollar Baby moving. The end is so good, I found myself wishing there were more moments like that throughout the entire movie. It could have been one of the first sports dramedies that could actually pull it off. Instead, we are given a taste that makes your strain your neck as you look for just a little more skin, or teeth.
I give Goon 3 out of 5 teeth, and pray Seann William Scott and Liev Schreiber don’t gang up on me to knock that many out of my head.
Patrick Emmel is a sports movie fanatic who previously has seen Major League 3 times more than he’s seen Rudy. He previously fired you up with “Five Hockey Fights to Prepare You for the Goon.” You can see more of his work at www.theineptowl.com or heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.