Movie Review: Goon
In this comedy about hockey fighting, Seann William Scott plays a talentless enforcer who succeeds because he can wallop other guys. Whatever crass humour there may be in this movie is buried under a lot of over-the-top violence and juvenile vulgarity.
Starring: Seann William Scott, Alison Pill, Liev Schreiber, Jay Baruchel
Rating: Two stars out of five
"I went to the fights the other night, and a hockey game broke out." It's an old joke, but, wait a minute: Hockey, fights, and an old joke ... sounds like a movie.
And voila: Goon, the latest attempt to translate the peculiar Canadian talents of self-deprecating humour and guys on skates pounding the crap out of one another into a hit comedy. The result is a 92-minute misconduct penalty.
Goon is the story of a hockey enforcer, loosely based on the career of Doug Smith, who was a boxer who learned how to skate. It's also inspired by the documentary, The Chiefs, about the Laval Chiefs, a team in the all-fighting, all-the-time North American Hockey League. The Chiefs is stranger than fiction; Goon is not only stranger, but also a lot more vulgar.
It stars an appealingly vacuous Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt, a professional bouncer at a bar, who is hired by a minor-league team when he beats up a player who has come right into the stands to battle a hostile crowd. Doug can't skate -- he comes to practice wearing figure skates and pushes along on his ankles -- but he sure can wallop guys, and Goon fairly drips blood, along with the occasional tooth. People who enjoy red gore on the blue line will be in arrested-development heaven.
Doug comes from a family of Jewish doctors -- Eugene Levy, Scott's American Pie co-star, has a cameo as his perpetually aggrieved father -- and you keep waiting for this oddity to pay off in a joke about, say, Moishe "The Rocket" Richard. There's finally a scene where someone holds up a sign reading, "Glatt is Hebrew For F--- You."
That, alas, is typical. Goon is frequently offside, especially when Doug's buddy Pat (co-writer Jay Baruchel) is around to push the tone of gross-out boy's-town juvenilia. When Doug has to pick a sweater number, Pat yells out, "Take the number 69! It's hilarious!"
Guess again, Pat.
Anyway, Doug soon moves up to a higher-calibre team ("Imagine if you played in a league where they actually play hockey," his coach says), the Halifax Highlanders. His job is to protect star forward Xavier Laflamme (C.R.A.Z.Y.'s Marc-Andre Grondin), a sort of Sidney Crosby with a lobotomy. Angry, burnt-out and strangely hostile to his own protector, Laflamme has been sent down from the Montreal Canadiens because he was hit so hard, he suffered a concussion and hasn't been the same player since.
The guy who hit him, Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber, persuasively intimidating), is an aging enforcer who has also been demoted, and it's only a matter of time before he and Doug have it out. Meanwhile, Doug is falling for Eva (Alison Pill, familiar as Zelda Fitzgerald in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris), who is supposed to be promiscuous. "I'm horny a lot. I sleep around," Eva says, but you have to take her word for it, because she seems kind of innocent in the same way that her Zelda seemed a little too sane.
Goon was directed by Michael Dowse, who found an empty-headed sweetness in the hoser-loser Fubar films, and almost accomplishes the same thing here. Doug is a vicious naif, and Scott's performance is a charming -- if scarred -- combination of black eyes and yearning. And some of the running gags -- like Ogilvey (Richard Clarkin), the team captain who compares every situation to the pain of his own divorce -- have the manic air of stupid-on-purpose that Baruchel and co-writer Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express) appear to be aiming for.
But too much of Goon is stupid-to-no-purpose: the Russian players who pretend to have sex with a goalie mask, the casual homophobia, the loving attention to the blood of hockey fights, Pat's coarse hectoring. Hockey enforcers can be funny when they're comic relief, like the Hanson brothers in Slap Shot, but Goon puts its marginal players at centre ice. Like their real-life counterparts, it's too much of a bad thing.