Review: 'Goon', starring Seann William Scott and Liev Schreiber
No matter the sport, every team has a "goon" sitting somewhere on the bench. A guy like Bill Laimbeer springs to mind in the NBA, or if one was unfortunate enough to play in the NFL back in the 1970s they might catch a broken neck on a late hit from Jack Tatum. These are skilled players who often put their talents and personal glory aside to do whatever was necessary for the team. In hockey, these players are held in especially high esteem and are considered fearsome warriors on the ice. In a sport that relishes the pier six brawl more than the rare hat trick, the goon is like hockey royalty.
That reverence for the sport and its bloody violence is at the heart of Goon, a new hockey comedy starring Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt, yet another in a long line of moronic characters with a heart that shines like the Stanley Cup. A slow-witted bouncer at a Boston bar, Doug communicates best with his fists, a fact which disappoints his high class parents embarrassed by their son's profession. He lives in a world where hockey is the only thing that matters, exemplified by his pesky, motor-mouthed buddy, Pat(co-writer Jay Baruchel), who hosts a vulgar sports talk show out of his basement. After Pat berates a visiting player into jumping the stands during a game, Doug literally bashes the guy's teeth out, earning himself a try out for the local squad.
The problem is that Doug isn't really a player. He can't skate and certainly can't shoot. All he does his beat people up, but he does it well enough to get passed to the semi-pro squad in Halifax, where he's brought in to protect a Gretzky-esque pretty boy who doesn't like getting hit. The big leagues get him in all types of trouble, falling for a promiscuous hockey groupie(Alison Pill) and riling up Ross "The Boss" Shea(Liev Schreiber), an ex-NHL goon on the downside of his career.
While the story focuses primarily on Doug's brutal exploits, relishing the blood and broken teeth of his victims in operatic slo-motion, it's Shea's story that is the most interesting. Schreiber is fantastic as the aging fighter, who has been demoted to the minors after one too many assaults and deteriorating ability. He sees in Doug one last chance to prove he's still the toughest man in the sport, while also recognizing that being pidgeon-holed as a goon has not only stunted his career, but also those of guys like Doug. A man-to-man chat they have on the eve of their inevitable showdown is the highlight of the film. This should have been the story of Shea's career, with Doug completely out of the equation.
Baruchel and Evan Goldberg's script is wildly off balance like a left winger who has taken one too many pucks to the head. They clearly expect us to root for Doug, but he's such a blank slate that it's hard to find any reason to like him. Merely grinning like a dufus and mumbling non-sequitors isn't enough. Only Shreiber brings real gravitas, with his handlebar mustache and bad ass samurai mystique. Michael Dowse's direction excels during the fast paced game sequences, which are so brutal they might make even the most die hard fan quake in their skates.
The plan for every hockey film is to achieve the sort of legendary status as 1977's Slap Shot, which featured Paul Newman in one of his most enduring roles. With only sporadic humor and a hero that's hard to cheer on, Goon's shot sails wide of the net.