“You’re not here to play hockey, you’re here to fight!”
The H-Bomb: Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is the sweet-but-dimwitted son of a doctor and the bona fide black sheep of his family. He works as a bouncer and is not expected by anyone, particularly himself, to ever amount to much. But that soon changes when he accompanies his best friend, Ryan (Jay Baruchel), the foul mouthed host of an Internet sports talk show, to a hockey game. Ryan, the big mouth that he is, gets into a heated exchange with a player in the penalty box, and when the player climbs up into the stands to attack him, Doug steps in and beats the living dung out of the guy, with his final blow shattering the dude’s helmet.
Video of this incident goes online, and soon Doug gets an offer from a local minor league coach to try out for his team; not as a regular player, but as an “enforcer,“ someone who is there to watch the backs of his fellow players and hit back violently whenever a player from the opposing team hits one of his teammates. Basically, he’s there to beat people up.
Doug lands a spot on the team after he leaves half of them on the ice, bleeding and picking up their teeth. Soon, he becomes something of a local celebrity, and is eventually sent to “play” for a semi-pro team in Canada. His main job for the new team, which is on a losing streak, is to watch the back of Xavier Aflame (Marc-Andre Grondin), a once rising star who, after suffering a nasty hit from legendary enforcer Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), was demoted from the big leagues and has pretty much squandered his career with drugs and booze.
Xavier isn’t exactly enamored with his new teammate, especially since all the other players and fans have taken a liking to “Doug the Thug.” Long and short of it, Doug has stolen his thunder, and Xavier isn’t pleased. Doug is a good-natured guy, and he keeps trying to reach out to Xavier, but the little French-Canadian Prima donna will have none of it, and their rivalry soon starts to hurt the rest of the team.
Unfortunately for Doug, Xavier isn’t the only rival he has to contend with, as Rhea, the elder enforcer, is going to be retiring at the end of the season, and he would love nothing more than to tango with the new kid when their teams square off. Doug may have the advantage of youth, but Rhea is notoriously ruthless, and he has been in a lot more fights. On top of all that . . . Doug meets a girl.
Like Martha Marcy May Marlene, Goon is a genuine sleeper from the past year that is very deserving of the critical praise it has been receiving. Loosely based on the career of real-life hockey enforcer Doug Smith, Goon is something of an odd duck, in that the violence is brutally realistic, with lots of actors spitting up buckets of red Kero syrup, but the overall film is upbeat and fairly lighthearted, not to mention hilarious.
Now, I’m not a sports fan in general, and in particular, I couldn’t give a fuck or a fart about hockey, but the film (co-written by co-star and avid hockey fan Baruchel), managed to pull me in with its genuinely likeable lead and sense of humor. Baruchel’s enthusiasm for the sport comes through and is very infectious. Yeah, it basically follows the underdog sports movie plot to the letter, but like with The Blindside, I was so caught up I didn’t care. Many have compared this to the Paul Newman film Slap Shot, but since I’ve never seen that movie, I can’t comment.
What I can comment on, however, is Scott’s performance, and how it, and it alone, makes this movie worth seeing. Avoiding the typical mugging that he’s famous for, Scott actually gets to act for a change, and does a fantastic job of bringing the slow-but-kind Doug to life. His job may be to beat the shit out of people, but Doug is most certainly not a thug or a bully by nature, and it was that contradiction between his true character, and what he does for a living, that I found interesting, and Scott’s exceptional performance has really made me see him in a new light. To people who can’t usually stand him, I say check this flick out, as I guarantee you will be rooting for him by the end. There is no sign of Stifler here.
Instead, the Stifler-like role, the obnoxious best friend who talks more than he should and always says the most inappropriate thing at the most inappropriate time, goes to Baruchel. He hams it up big time, and is, for the most part, a riot, I just wish there was more of him in the movie. As Rhea, Schreiber brings real gravitas to the film. You might be tempted to make fun of his ridiculous mullet at first, but once you see him turning some poor fool’s face into raw hamburger meat, you absolutely will not dare. His scene with Doug in a coffee shop, weirdly enough, reminded me of the Pacino-De Niro sit down in Heat. Rhea has a line of dialogue in the scene that gives me the feeling that this is not a coincidence. Either way, Schreiber is solid, as always.
Eugene Levy makes an invaluable cameo, playing it fairly straight as Doug’s judgmental father, who just can’t understand what his son is doing with his life, and is even, it would seem, a little ashamed of him. The part where he suggests that Doug become a teacher is both the funniest and saddest moment in the entire film.
Of everything Goon got right, there is one plot thread that I truly did not care for, the obligatory love interest. Notice in my plot description how I blew it off with a brief sentence, that’s because it just truly felt half-assed and extraneous. It seems like every movie feels like it has to include a romance, whether it’s needed or not, and in this case, it wasn’t needed . . . at all. It’s introduced pretty late in the game, and followed the clichéd romantic subplot route with no detours, and every time Allison Pill (as said love interest) appeared on screen, I got bored and annoyed.
But that one unneeded aspect hardly hampered my enjoyment of the film, as it is as rousing and entertaining a sports flick as any you’ll find. The consistently witty and amusing script, and Scott’s surprisingly excellent performance make Goon a real winner, and I would urge anyone, hockey fan or not, to give it a look.