Hockey movies are not exactly prevalent as far as the sports genre is concerned. Of the slightly more than half dozen I can think of, more than half are Disney movies and three quarters of those are from the Mighty Ducks franchise.
Arguably the most beloved of the films is Slap Shot, starring Paul Newman. The tale of a minor league hockey team trying to keep from being shut down. (It was more or less remade as Major League a few seasons down the road.) Goon, which comes to DVD and blu ray after a brief and limited theatrical run is absolutely a spiritual successor of Slap Shot, minus the overwhelming use of gay slurs. It manages to hew close to the tride and true formula of classics sports films, while being something new. There are no bad guys and the stakes aren’t huge (there’s no championship on the line, but rather simply a trip to the playoffs); it’s mostly a character piece built around the guy that is usually nutty comic relief. (Or, in the case of Slap Shot, three guys that provide nutty comic relief.)
It’s odd to write this, but Goon is possibly the best role Seann William Scott will ever play. While I’ve liked his performances in the past for what they were, he manages to bring far more to the table in playing Doug “The Thug” Glatt than all of his other films combined. Glatt is a simple guy, in more ways than one. He works as a bouncer and he knows he’s not that bright. But he can take and give out punishment like few men can. In addition, he’s a stand-up guy that can’t stand to know that he’s wronged someone. When he is signed up by a local hockey team thanks to a fight in the stands of a game he attends, he begins fighting for his team, not because he enjoys the carnage, but because it’s a job and he’s good at it. He can take pride in it. The way Scott manages to have an undercurrent of sadness in the film instead of just being “Stiffler on ice” results in a performance that may not win him any Oscars, but will certainly gain him fans.
The truly special part of the script by regular Apatow cronies Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg is that instead of a snarling cartoon villain, Glatt’s season builds to a confrontation with Liev Schreiber’s Ross “The Boss” Rhea, a veteran enforcer, knocked down to the minors. Schreiber and the script may not portray Rhea as a hero, but they show him as a professional and when the two face off, it is not a case of good versus evil or a personal grudge match. It is because it simply must happen. And when it does, it is bloody and painful.
Add in Scott Pilgrim’s Allison Pill as Doug’s love interest and Eugene Levy as Doug’s adoptive father and the cast is perfect for a light (but not too light) comedy that will give you the fix you need when it comes to these kinds of films. I almost feel just a tiny bit too generous in my scoring, but the movie is so darn likable that I can’t help myself.
(Three and a half out of five stars)