A film review by Craig J. Koban March 7, 2012


2012, R, 92 mins.


Sean William Scott: Doug / Liev Schreiber: Ross "The Boss" / Jay Baruchel: Pat / Marc-Andre Grondin: Xavier Laflamme / Alison Pill: Eva

Directed by Michael Dowse / Screenplay by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, based on the book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith

GOON is a new sports comedy about the game of hockey at its most brash, crude, and savagely bloodthirsty.  It certainly does not hide behind or apologize for its celebration of Canada’s most cherished sport at its most gladiatorial.  

Hockey is most certainly to be enjoyed as a pure finesse game, to be sure, that highlights some of the most gifted athletes on the planet at their most skilled and dexterous.  Yet, there remains the controversial role of the enforcer in the game, or “goon” in the popular vernacular, that exists primarily out of need for a tough brute that can pummel another team’s brute for punishing his more skilled teammates.  GOON highlights - as does the sport of hockey - that you don’t need to be particularly accomplished or exceptionally skilled in your sport to succeed at it; you only really need to know how you fit into the team’s eclectic makeup.   

This is the case with appealingly dim-witted, but outwardly chiseled and tough as nails Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott), who works largely unfulfilling odd jobs as a bar bouncer in Massachusetts to make ends meet.  Doug is an amiable fellow that’s hard to really hate, but he remains the unintelligent black sheep of his family: his father (Eugene Levy) is a doctor, as is his brother, which always makes Doug feel like an discontented and uneducated loser.  Doug does not have much in the way of cognitive skills, but he more than makes up for it in raw, unrelenting fist-bashing force: he seems to be able to mop the floor with just about any adversary that dares to threaten him or his friends.  Hey, we all have our talents. 

One day changes Dougie’s fate forever.  While attending a minor league game with his buddy Pat (Jay Baruchel, also co-writer here with Evan Goldberg) Doug gets into an altercation with one of the on-ice hockey players that Pat makes the mistake of taunting while in the penalty box.  The enraged player climbs into the stands to confront Pat, but Doug – being a chivalrous and overly protective fellow – defends his friend’s honor and quickly knocks the player out cold.  In the aftermath of the altercation the coach from the home team – who witnessed Doug’s fighting prowess from the bench – calls Doug and offers him the role of an enforcer to protect his teammates.  Doug jubilantly agrees, but there’s only one problem: he’s hopelessly unskilled on skates. 

Despite some long training hiccups, Doug becomes a premiere “goon” on his minor league team and soon becomes a fan and media favorite.  His nearly unstoppable might gains the attention of a major league hockey club in the Great White North, The Halifax Highlanders, who desperately need his unique set of skills to protect their star player, Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin).  Laflamme was once a big-time hockey player, but was sidelined with a concussion due to a dirty hit by the league's chief headhunting antagonist, Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber, having a field-day playing a egomaniacal and vile hoser), a player that Doug idolizes.  Doug initially has difficulties acclimatizing himself to his new Canuck surroundings, but he is befriended by a rather ornery hockey fan in Eva (the sprightly and adorably foul-mouthed Alison Pill) that he quickly falls for.  Eventually, Doug finds inner confidence in “knowing his role” for the Highlanders and his once downtrodden team sees themselves in a key playoff-determining match against The Boss’ own team, which means that Doug will unavoidable have to go toe-to-toe (or should that be skate-to-skate?) with his idol. 



There are two things that I liked in GOON: Firstly, I enjoyed how the script finds a way to not make Doug an unthinking monster on and off the ice.  He most certainly is capable of horrific teeth popping and brutal jaw smashing violence on the ice, but he’s not a figure that lusts to be violent.  He has a sense of dignity and obligation in his role of an enforcer and seems to care about his fellow players, even when they don’t reciprocate similar feelings back.  Doug is, deep down, a sweet, disarming, and fairly self-aware man despite his diminished intelligence.  This leads to the second element that I appreciated in GOON, which is the central romance between Doug and Eva.  She is, for lack of a better phrase, a hockey slut (she gets off on being with players), but in Doug she finds a big-hearted gentleman that cares for her regardless of her character flaws, which allows for her to feel for the big ol’ punch-happy lug as well.  Sean William Scott and Alison Pill have a nice off-kiltered chemistry with one another that breathes some humanity amidst the film's hockey chaos.

As stated, the film merrily sustains itself on the notion of chronicling hockey hooligans at their most unrefined and viscous, which leads to inescapable comparisons to SLAP SHOT.  GOON certainly plays up to the crude microcosm of small town and farm club hockey with an affectionate eye.  The film is vulgar, nah…make that aggressively vulgar, with frequent usages of four and twelve-letter variations of the most famous f-bomb in the world that would rival GOODFELLAS.  The film's gore quotient alone during its various goon-on-goon skirmishes are among the most stomach churning I’ve seen in a sports film; it's borderline pornographic at times. 

Yet, GOON still suffers from many other nagging faults.  Perhaps the main issue with the film is that its inherent material is kind of horribly antiquated and, as a result, not really as uproariously funny as it thinks it is.  The film delivers chuckles here and there when it comes to Doug’s initial incompetence as a player and later in his awkward courtship of Eva, but GOON’s tonal trajectory is widely all over the map.  It becomes really difficult at times to understand whether the film wants us to laugh with or at its chief enforcer or scathingly mock him or hold him up to a high pedestal of hero worship.  Moreover, the film is sometimes widely uneven when it comes to figuring out whether or not it finds sympathy in Doug’s life as a powerful, but unskilled hockey thug.  Lamentably, GOON seems to sensationalize hockey fighting for the sake of cheap laughs and manipulative titillation for the vulgarians in the audience.  However, in the primal and animalistic climax between Doug and “The Boss" the haunting chords of Puccini screams in the background to elicit an operatic and solemn gravitas to the wanton carnage.  Huh?  You can’t have it both ways. 

In the end, maybe the lifestyle of hockey enforcer is not really funny at all: I find it...kind of depressing.  Decades ago GOON might have been a scatological giggle-fest, but its release timing is kind of horrendous in the wake of recent real life tragedies of NHL enforcers that died young.  Derek Boogaard died at 28 from a mixture of painkillers and alcohol; Rick Rypien died at 27 from suicide; and Wade Belak died at 35 in a hotel room by what authorities were classifying as a suicide (his mother confirmed he was battling depression).  Boogard’s death was later revealed to be caused by chronic traumatic encephalopathy that may have come from frequent head trauma sustained in hockey fights.  There is strong evidence to suggest that all of these men died as a result of their demoralizing roles as hockey enforcers.  The goon’s life is no laughing matter anymore.  In SLAP SHOT’s time…maybe…but now…not so much. 

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