Blades of Gory
Starring: Sean William Scott, Liev Schreiber
The beloved jack-o-lantern smile of the habitually goofy, snarky tongued Sean William Scott is nowhere to be found in Goon, the Sam-Peckinpah-on-skates hockey flick directed by Michael Dowse. Here, in the brutal world of minor league hockey, there are no ripcords or safety belts. The dusty landscape of westerns, where tumbleweeds amble by before a gunfight, are replaced with slabs of ice and logo-wearing brutes with fists bigger than Marvel’s The Thing. Dowse’s love letter to hockey is written by Evan Goldberg and the slender and wiry Jay Baruchel, the latter of whom you may remember from movies such as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and How to Train Your Dragon.
In grandiose fashion, Dowse creates a world of miscreants, viper-tongued henchmen, and aloof headcases that ring reminiscent of the cannonized Slap Shot, the most quoted hockey movie of all-time. While not nearly close to the greatness that is the aforementioned film, Goon manages to create enough palpable glass banging and idiosyncratic characters that most puck heads will be happy regardless of its shortcomings (and there are a few).
Goon revolves around the hapless and dopey Doug Glass, an affable bouncer in the Boston area of Massachusetts. So nice is Doug that he apologizes before tenderizing even the most inordinate of barflies. Surrounded by Doug is his best friend, the nasally, scrawny, and foul-mouthed Pat (Baruchel). The two lugs drink, watch hockey, and say unfunny lines that are so lowbrow they would be left on the cutting room floor of a Kevin Smith film. Eventually, due to a unforeseen incident, Doug is invited to play hockey for Boston’s minor league affiliate. The oafish simplicity of the bar bruiser is utilized when Doug is groomed into the team’s premier enforcer. The character is a nice guy with repressed rage, ala Adam Sandler in The Waterboy, who snarls and breaks when someone offends him.
Once on the roster, Doug, whom is essentially a manchild, attempts to teach a fragmented team about solidarity and sportsmanship. There is a prima donna hockey player that is essentially a caricature of Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow; there is a goalie whose insecurity costs him his dignity; and two unabashedly verbose wingmen who make sexual jokes at every turn. Think Major League on ice (there’s even a curmudgeonly old commentator, in the vein of Bob Uecker, who dances around the press booth with equal parts snarky cynicism and over-the-top optimism). When the film isn’t partaking in raucous behavior, it tailspins into a romantic subplot that has the helium headed Doug courting the girl of his dreams. This last part is necessary to build Doug’s character, but it feels hopelessly superfluous in the process, despite its intentions, and weighs down the film.
The gallows humor works in places, but basically, even with all of the profanity and genital jokes, most of the jests are amusing but not necessarily funny. Baruchel’s character is the worst part of the film, and essentially comes off as a barking foghorn for the duration of his screen time. Sean William Scott has great timing, however, and even outshines the furry-browed Eugene Levy.
With much of the film being a wash, humorously, it’s nice to see any sort of hockey film being made with enough sand to have spurting blood, inside jokes about the league, and homages to great stars and incidents of the sport’s past. Liev Schreiber even shows up doing his best Marty McSorley impression – there’s high sticking everywhere. But for people who are casual hockey fans, there’s no reason to plunk down coinage to see Goon.
There’s also a sense of sadness, that perhaps, in the strangest way possible, permeates around Dowse’s film. The enforcer is seen as a hulking mongoloid, an impresario of injuries, something like Joe Frazier on skates. Even in Slap Shot the Hanson brothers were seen as a bespectacled hydra of madness and goofiness. In reality, the enforcer is a strategist, a suit of armor, and most often times a kind and sensible person. While their position is seen as a joke to people outside of the hockey community, they’re necessary on the ice (Gretzky would be a dead man without his enforcer). This movie comes out at a time when many enforcers – Derek Boogaard and Bob Probert – have passed in recent years. In the minds of many, a film, or a thoughtful documentary about the life of an enforcer, would be more needed than an animate rendition of Looney Tunes on ice. But out of a political context, if Goon serves as an enjoyable, pliable, entertaining movie that will hold over hockey fans for the time being – so be it.