Review – “Goon”

Seann William Scott fights for his life (or his living) in the rough and tumble world of minor league hockey.

Seann+William+Scott+leads+a+surprisingly+talented+cast+in+what+is+%28apparently%29+a+true+story+of+fighting+to+find+your+place.%0D%0A

Photo courtesy Myriad Pictures

Seann William Scott leads a surprisingly talented cast in what is (apparently) a true story of fighting to find your place.

Griffin Fillipitch

 

Directed by: Michael Dowse

Starring: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill

Rated: R

Showing at: Lagoon Cinema

 

“Goon” really only slows down once, and it’s to show blood spattering on the ice before a tooth follows. That is less than 30 seconds in, and from that point onward, it’s clear that anyone who was waiting for a spiritual successor to the Paul Newman’s classic 1977 hockey comedy “Slap Shot” has found it.

Seann William Scott takes a break from his usual “Stifler” character to play Doug, a simple, strong man with a heart of gold but a horrible temper. He is a career bouncer until getting recruited by a minor league hockey team to be an enforcer —muscle hired to fight and take out members of the opposing team. The subject of fighting and violence in hockey has been controversial lately, especially since the death of former Minnesota Wild player Derek Boogaard last May. So a film that deals with violence in hockey as directly and unapologetically as “Goon” must be the work of people with a lot of courage, or nerve, depending on who you ask.

It might seem like the movie would have to take a stand for the old-school, hard-knock style of hockey or show why it needs to go, but ultimately it does neither. Each side has several defenders that come and go throughout, but one of the greatest strengths in “Goon” is that it leaves the morality of Doug’s actions to the viewer. At one point, a fellow enforcer played by Liev Schreiber asks Doug, “You know they just want you to bleed, right?” He says it with a wistful sigh, but immediately after, he promises to destroy him if they ever meet on the ice.

It seems like the film’s thoughts on the subject align with his. It’s probably not right, but it’s there, and this is what it is like.

This feels like a conscious decision made by director Michael Dowse, but it is also likely that the script, adapted from the book of the same name by “Superbad” co-writer Evan Goldberg and co-star Jay Baruchel, is brimming with so many filthy jokes and flawed characters, that he just doesn’t have time to editorialize. Most of that humor comes from Baruchel, who plays Doug’s insufferably gross and hilarious best friend Ryan, as well as the secondary members of the team (one of whom tells Doug on his first day, “Two rules: Stay away from my [expletive] percocets, and do you have any [expletive] percocets?”)

But that is an oversimplification of where the laughs come from, because “Goon” really does not know how to compartmentalize itself and is all the better for it. Some of its funniest moments are also its most violent. One of Doug’s sweetest gestures comes in the midst of the most extreme violence. As the end nears, it’s difficult to remember which jokes generated such huge laughs, or why the conclusion feels so epic and affecting. Everything moves so quickly it’s like it all happened at once. It makes for an exhilarating 90 minutes.

Once its time is up, it will stick with you. It’s not just about the ride. This is in part thanks to especially great performances from Alison Pill (basically the only female character) as Doug’s conflicted love interest, Schreiber and Kim Coates as the perpetually furious head coach. Each of these actors have roles that could easily have been caricatured into oblivion, but instead they flesh them out to a sometimes heartbreaking, always rewarding effect.

So if it’s not clear already, let me just say that “Goon” is not for the faint of heart. The violence has been and will continue to be described as excessive and unnecessary, but that argument has less to do with the actual film and more to do with one’s own definition of those words. The fact is that “Goon” is about violence on the most fundamental level. You can’t pull any punches in a story that is all about the punches.

3 1/2 out of 4 stars