Thursday, June 21, 2012

Goon

GOON (Michael Dowse, 2011)

A hockey team’s enforcer usually ranks among the most popular players with fans because they love the guy who pounds on opponents and isn’t afraid to leave some of his blood on the ice.  Other team sports feature their share of violent contact, but hockey stands alone in accepting fisticuffs among players as part of the game.  GOON, based on the true story of designated tough guy Doug “The Hammer” Smith, suggests that being a good fighter sometimes can be enough to make a living in hockey.  

Massachusetts bouncer Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) never aspired to lace up the skates.  In fact, he can barely stay upright on them, but that doesn’t matter to the coach who spots him one night at the rink.  Doug is attending a minor league game when a shouting match with a player in the penalty box leads to a scuffle in the stands.  Doug absorbs the hits and lays out the furious member of the visiting team.  With those well-landed blows, Doug punches his ticket for a professional hockey career.  

Doug is of little use other than as a bruiser, but his singular talent attracts the affection of the fans and the interest of a farm team in Halifax.  The organization wants a protector for its high draft pick Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-AndrĂ© Grondin).  Since returning from a brutal hit, the offensive wunderkind is wary on the ice and out of control off it.  

Doug has finally found his calling, but all is not perfect.  He becomes a popular guy in his new club’s locker room but is resented by Xavier.  His brother Ira (David Paetkau) and best friend Pat (Jay Baruchel) support his newfound success, but his parents (Eugene Levy and Ellen David) express disdain for Doug being celebrated for violent behavior.  He meets and falls for a Eva (Alison Pill), a pretty Canadian local who reluctantly informs him after they’ve made out that she has a boyfriend.     

Unlike most sports movies, which tend to be overly reverent about their subjects, GOON puts on no airs.  The action on the ice isn’t a metaphor for life, and the players aren’t noble warriors.  Being a hockey player is just a job, albeit one that can benefit those like Doug who excel at beating the tar out of others.  The film’s sense of humor is just as blunt.  Liberally peppered with profanities and comedic hockey-related violence, GOON finds plenty to laugh at in the coarse words and antics of athletes.

Best known as Stifler in the AMERICAN PIE films, Scott has made his name playing insincere and overbearing characters.  GOON’s Doug could have easily come from the same mold, but in an inspired choice, Scott represents the protagonist as a nice, sweet guy despite his thuggish conduct on the ice.  Even at his most dim-witted, Doug’s innate sensitivity shines through, like when he asks an upset Eva if she just watched inspirational football film RUDY.  The contrast in his personality can be most amusing in his polite proposals to adversaries to drop gloves.  The professional rough-houser’s pride in having found his role is seen in the respect he grants legendary goon Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber) and the confusion and disappointment from his parents disapproval.  Doug displays everything he thinks and feels on the surface, and Scott does solid work being funny and giving Doug emotional complexity.        

While GOON hails the underdog, it doesn’t oversell Doug’s abilities.  Take away his enforcer assignment and his contribution on the ice vanishes.  Essentially he’s a boxer on skates.  In seeing these players for what they are and avoiding sentimentality, GOON earns bigger laughs and likely provides a truer glimpse inside the sport than the reporters and screenwriters whose flowery prose tries to make these competitors respectable.    

Grade: B-

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