REVIEW: Goon [2012]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 92 minutes | Release Date: February 24th, 2012 (Canada)
Studio: Alliance Films
Director(s): Michael Dowse
Writer(s): Jay Baruchel & Evan Goldberg / Adam Frattasio & Doug Smith
(book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey)

“Probably giving some single mother herpes in the parking lot”

Written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, Goon is their generation’s Slap Shot with Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) serving as all three Hanson brothers in one. Bearing more in common than a full stomach of bloody fisticuffs, each work also finds itself born from the minor league annals of hockey’s checkered history. Nancy Dowd wrote her 1977 cult classic in part from the stories her brother Ned shared about his experiences in Johnstown, PA while these two Canadian alums of Apatow Productions went indie to adapt Doug Smith‘s memoirs, Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey. Getting to the heart of what these men do each game—mainly bleed for their team—we’re exposed to what it is to be an enforcer.

While not fashionable presently with concussions and CTE on everyone’s mind, fighting has always been a huge part of hockey until incidents like Marty McSorley’s ugly stick swing and Mike Milbury fighting in the stands became more rampant. Teams used to draft designated pugilists strictly to protect high-paid superstars, many becoming fan favorites in the community. Stereotyped as tough guys not to mess with, the truth of the matter was that many were the nicest of the bunch. They aren’t getting paid millions of dollars or saddled with insurmountable pressure to light the lamp consistently. These goons play less than ten minutes a game, help change the momentum, and give the thousands in the stands what they all scream to receive. Every Guy Lafleur needed a Chris Nilan.

For the Halifax Highlanders, that hierarchy comes in the form of Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin) and Glatt. A former first round pick, LaFlamme met a bone-crushing check from famed enforcer Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber) that laid him out and instilled the fear of God. A shadow of the player he was, the rising star is now a second rate minor league has-been unable to shake the cobwebs on the ice or stop hemorrhaging his cash flow on women and drugs off it. Desperate for a solution, coach Ronnie Hortense (Kim Coates) looks to his brother’s bar league team in Massachusetts and recruits Glatt’s ex-bouncer to the semi-big show. Barely able to stand on his skates let alone finesse a puck towards the net, Doug “The Thug” becomes the Highlanders and LaFlamme’s last hope.

Directed by Canadian cult favorite Michael Dowse—known up north most for his Fubar films and to me with Take Me Home Tonight—you can see a desire to depict hard-nosed, beaten to a pulp backyard rules fans clamor to see. Doug’s friend Pat (Baruchel) epitomizes the lewdly crass sect with his public access show “Hot Ice” collecting all the gruesome deeds of hockey’s goons in one place. It’s a rock ’em, sock ’em world shot up close in the action so that the big fights feel as though you’re mashing buttons in a high octane bout of NHL ’12. Each hit lands, flesh splits, and blood falls with Glatt’s bones appearing to be made out of adamantium when he head butts a guy in the helmet with his forehead.

This is the type of all-out brawl comedy the filmmakers seek. We get the weird comradery of a locker room run by an angry coach and drunk captain (Richard Clarkin‘s Gord Ogilvey) as goalies prove eccentric and Europeans strangely sexual. It’s a rag-tag bunch of castoffs in the mold of an adult Mighty Ducks—guys who need a calming force like Glatt for piece of mind and a spark. Doug isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed despite a doctor father and brother (Eugene Levy and David Paetkau respectively) and his simpleton’s softy demeanor becomes the basis of his unceasing loyalty. With a heavy-handed motif of showing respect to the Highlander crest on the locker room floor prevailing, we watch as Glatt helps rekindle the pride these players lost long ago.

Unfortunately, while the hockey stuff is great from the humor and characters to the on-ice footage, Baruchel and Goldberg stumble in an attempt to add a little romance. Boy does this insertion feel out-of-place, screeching all momentum to a halt. Alison Pill is fantastic—an easy cast being Baruchel’s real life squeeze—however her Eva falling for Glatt’s mix of sweetness and machismo despite having a boyfriend adds nothing to the film. If anything she only further fractures what the guys were trying to do with Baruchel’s Pat and Paetkau’s Ira, splitting Doug’s cheerleader camp into a three-headed monster when one would have sufficed. We begin to worry so much about this relationship that we miss the ultimate evolution of Grondin’s LaFlamme from selfish prick to humble teammate. Maybe that was the plan.

Goon is a ton of fun nonetheless with superb in-joke cameos by former NHLer Georges Laraque and all three “Trailer Park Boys” leads on the “Hot Ice” set. Grondin plays the spoiled pretty boy with aplomb, Baruchel is obnoxiously endearing, and Coates channels his “Sons of Anarchy” rage behind the bench without going overboard. The film ultimately succeeds or fails by how well you accept Scott’s Doug and Schreiber’s Rhea, though. I personally felt Scott went too low on the intelligence scale with his childlike innocence grating at times while Schreiber stole the show with seasoned experience and “graceful” respect in his near-homicidal actions. A love letter to a bygone era of a sport never receiving the respect it deserves, I applaud all for a job well done.

[1] Liev Schreiber and Seann William Scott in GOON, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
[2] Jay Baruchel in GOON, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
[3] Seann William Scott and Alison Pill in GOON, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

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