Review: Goon Scores Big Laughs

There’s enough love for the vulgar and violent world of minor-league hockey on the screen with Goon, that one need not have any love for the sport themselves in order to enjoy it. God knows I didn’t. If anything, it’s a glorified boxing-on-ice movie that also happens to capture well the camaraderie of a hockey team and the bloodlust of a cheering crowd, with a liberal dose of crude wisecracks to top it all off.

What’s more, the film serves as a much-needed showcase for star Seann William Scott’s maturing comedic chops. His Doug “The Thug” Glatt (based on real-life hockey enforcer Doug “The Hammer” Smith) is a well-meaning brawler, a Massachusetts bouncer who apologizes profusely to those he’s forced to rough up. He shakes women’s hands a bit too firmly, and he’s resigned to disappointing his folks (American Pie alum Eugene Levy plays his father) by not following in his brother’s Ivy League footsteps and becoming a nice doctor.

Best friend Ryan (co-writer Jay Baruchel) doesn’t care about all that. These two get to enjoy their hockey together, and when Doug cold-cocks a livid player after he stomps into the stands, Ryan puts Doug’s might on the map and lands him on a Halifax team, tasked with protecting a prime scorer (Marc-André Grondin) still shaken up by his violent encounter with the legendary Ross “The Boss” Shea (Liev Schreiber), to whom Doug soon merits comparison.

Doug’s feet may not be the steadiest on the ice, but his fists are something magical out on the rink, and director Michael Dowse (Take Me Home Tonight) doesn’t glorify the game’s brutality so much as he romanticizes it. (The film even opens with a tooth being knocked onto the ice in slow-motion as operatic music swells.) Doug may be aloof, but he’s sincere, and more importantly, he’s finally good at something, parental validation be damned. His actions always stem from wanting to protect his team, whereas Ross fights just for the sake of it. When they finally have a sit-down meeting, in which Doug wants to extend his admiration, the soon-to-retire Ross assures him: “Like me, you’re no good to anyone doing anything else.”

Doug can’t think like that, though. He’s embracing the gifts he’s got, following his beatdown bliss. He gets in his first fight in objection to a homophobic slur, he also refuses to cross the team seal on the locker room floor and he insists on calling his coach (Kim Coates) “sir,” no matter how heated he gets. For Scott, it’s an endearing turn, modeled closer to his perfectly humble performance in 2008’s little-seen The Promotion than his brasher roles in bigger comedies, an anchor of lunk-headed warmth amid many colorful characters (besides Ryan and Ross, there’s a team captain going through a painful divorce, his exceedingly sycophantic colleague, a doped-up goalie with a short temper and Eva, an adorable hockey groupie played by Alison Pill) and plenty of foul language.

Baruchel and co-writer Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express) keeps the humor just on this side of juvenile, offsetting every crude gesture with an off-center zinger; among the cleaner bits to reprint here is Doug’s line of questioning when a tearful Eva approaches: “What happened? Did you just watch Rudy?” Dowse matches the energy of the banter in the film’s sports sequences, energetically shooting the games with puck-level pinball shots and over-the-shoulder maneuvers that keep the action clean and exciting.

See? And I don’t even like sports. That’s the borderline quaint appeal of Goon: it’s an underdog story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, tender as a bruise and about as blue.

Goon is now open in select cities and also available on demand through cable providers, Amazon, iTunes and such.

Grade: B+