Goon– Movie Review: A New Hockey Comedy
Reportedly, Jay Baruchel (Dodgeball, She’s Out Of My League) wrote the screenplay for Goon inspired by the recent lack of hockey comedies out there. But the finished product also tries to be an indie romance, a family dramedy, and an inspirational Everyman tale. As a result, Goon doesn’t really succeed at any of it, in large part due to the lead performance of Seann William Scott, who attempts to jam every moment of his bloody enforcer’s life full of aw-shucks innocence and likeability.
Inspired by the real life and memoir (of the same name) of Doug Smith, aka “The Hammer,” aka “The Thug”, Goon follows Doug Glatt (Scott), a bouncer in the Boston suburbs who gets drafted into a regional hockey league after cracking a player’s helmet with his granite-like skull during a brawl in the stands. Despite not even being able to skate at first, Doug The Thug climbs his way into the professional minor leagues, all while fall in love, fighting for his family’s respect, and inspiring his washed-up teammates.
Writers Baruchel and Evan Golderberg (Pineapple Express, Superbad) and Scott might have done better to hedge closer to real life. Apparently, the real Doug Smith was not “discovered;” he was an amateur boxer who actively sought out a life of infamy as a hockey enforcer. I didn’t find much online about him, but someone claiming to be Smith wrote engagingly about his experiences on a hockey fights message board a few years back, saying his brief time in hockey did not provide such a cleanly uplifting message:
I thought if I could learn to skate and keep my balance long enough I too could become a fighter….boy was I wrong! Trust me its a lot harder than it looks. But never the less I gave it a go and with the help of friends was able to play a few games in the minor leagues. Honestly, all in all, I really don’t think I did all that bad. I mean I got the sh*t kicked out of me a few times no doubt about that but to go against the leagues toughest who were tested night in and night out, and for me to walk out of the areana [sic] after a game on my own and not carried out on a stretcher, to me is success.
Now that’s a guy I’d like to learn more about. By contrast, Scott’s Glatt is bland and unmotivated. I never quite understood what he was fighting for, other than that he didn’t have much else going on. His romance with a local hockey groupie (Alison Pill) seemed more naive than sweet. Director Michael Dowse didn’t help things by overusing slow motion and cliched opera (“Nessun Dorma”) to try to make everything look heroic.
The movie does have some terrific supporting performances, notably Liev Scheiber, whose aging enforcer is intimidating, vulnerable, conflicted, and complex. He also seems to genuinely enjoy his bad-assery, instead of apologizing for it. Pill and Baruchel (as Glatt’s amazingly foul-mouthed best friend) are quirky and but also completely committed dramatically.
It’s hard not to compare a minor league hockey comedy to Slap Shot, and the comparison here doesn’t fare well for Goon. The newer film lacks any of the gritty naturalness or meaningful social commentary of its predecessor, which is unfortunate, because either could have been timely in this tale about a battered blue-collar guy taking life’s hard knocks.
Did you see Goon? What did you think?