‘Goon‘ is a profane, silly comedy about minor league hockey, but when you strip away the vulgarity and locker room humor, what you’re left with is a very sincere and very passionate statement about the power of teamwork and community. The men of the Halifax Highlanders drink, smoke, carouse, bicker, and fight, but by the end of the film, they win as well, not because they’re grown more talented, but because they’ve grown closer. One wonders whether the filmmakers are ultimately talking about hockey, or about independent filmmaking, another pastime that relies heavily on perseverance and togetherness.
Seann William Scott stars as Doug Glatt, an aimless twenty-something bouncer who is a perpetual disappointment to his conservative Jewish parents (Eugene Levy and Ellen David). His hockey-obsessed buddy Ryan (co-writer/producer Jay Baruchel) takes Doug to a minor league hockey game, where a fight spills into the stands and Doug catches a coach’s eye with his ability to take a punch and dole out punishment. From there, Doug’s hired to serve as the team’s on-ice enforcer. If someone hurts one of his teammates, it’s Doug’s job to hurt them right back. Doug can’t play hockey — hell, he can barely skate. But that’s fine. Doug’s not paid to play hockey. He’s paid to beat people up. And he’s very good at his job.
Eventually Doug proves himself and moves to Halifax, where he’s ordered to protect the Highlanders’ timid star, a talented goal scorer and terrible teammate named Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin). Doug’s hard work and good attitude begins to rub off on the Highlanders, whose improved play puts them on a collision course with the St. John’s Shamrocks and their own goon, the legendarily violent Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber).
If Scott’s involvement gives you any preconceived notions about what his character must be like — notions that are particularly reasonable right now, one week before Scott reprises his iconic role of Steve Stiffler in ‘American Reunion‘ — let me dispel them immediately. Though “American Pie” established Scott as the preeminent wisecracking douchebag of his generation, a title further cemented with superbly obnoxious performances in its sequels and ‘The Rundown,’ in recent years he’s begun to hint at a newfound range and maturity. He was great — and not at all Stiffler-like — in Richard Kelly’s mondo-weirdo ‘Southland Tales,’ and he’s even better in an even tougher role in ‘Goon.’
Doug Glatt — his last name refers to a type of kosher food, a clever metaphor for the character’s spiritual purity — is basically just a nice guy. He does have some obstacles to overcome, namely his parents’ rejection of his chosen profession (a rejection, it’s worth noting, that never gets resolved onscreen) and winning the heart of a cute Halifax hockey fan named Eva (Alison Pill, who absolutely nails the movie’s single funniest line). But as a character, Doug doesn’t really have an arc or any major flaws. Without any sort of transformation to play, Scott, looking a little rougher around the edges than in his babyfaced ‘American Pie’ days, simply piles on the sheepish, ramshackle charm. Somehow, he pulls it off, and Doug becomes a character you really root for. That’s good, since this is an underdog sports comedy, and rooting for the characters is at least 85% of what the film should be about.
‘Goon’ will inevitably get compared to ‘Slap Shot,’ the high water mark of the sub-sub-sub-sub-genre of violent, raunchy minor league hockey comedies. But its closest antecedent isn’t George Roy Hill’s classic about the lovable losers of the Charlestown Chiefs, but another underdog sports movie about a kind-hearted thug looking to beat an intimidatingly experienced foe and win the heart of a seemingly unattainable girl: ‘Rocky.’ Like ‘Rocky,’ ‘Goon’ is about believing in yourself, powering through adversity, and the simply pleasure of punching someone repeatedly in the face. Like ‘Rocky,’ ‘Goon is a wonderful showcase for a talented if somewhat meatheaded actor. Yo Eva, he did it.