I knew all along that Goon was going to be a great movie for two reasons:
1. It had a hard time getting a theatrical release in the United States
2. Everyone who saw it made comparisons to Slap Shot.
You might think that any movie that had trouble finding a mainstream release is a bad movie. And in most cases, you would be right.
But I knew Goon would be great because of that. Hockey is a tough sell in the United States. A hockey movie is even a tougher sell, and yet Goon does not sell-out, pander, cater or kowtow to help reach a wider audience. No dumbing down or awkward, “after the fact” edits to make it more commercial.
After watching Goon, you can tell that director Michael Dowse and screenwriters Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg made the picture that they wanted to make: a film that is violent, funny and has a good story. The “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” of hockey movies, one that is truly worthy of Slap Shot comparisons.
Speaking of which, no one would dare compare a bad movie to Slap Shot, except for Universal when releasing a bad Slap Shot sequel. If other fans who have seen both movies say Goon is the Slap Shot for this generation, then Goon must have a lot going for it.
And it does. For starters, the source material is solid. Goon is based on a book about former minor league enforcer Doug Smith, entitled Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey.The film is a fictionalized account of the start of Smith’s hockey career. Seann William Scott (from American Pie and Dude, Where’s My Car?) plays Doug Glatt, a bouncer at a bar and fan of hockey fights.
Feeling down on his luck, Glatt goes to a hockey game with his best friend Pat (played by Baruchel), who decides to mercilessly heckle a visiting player. Enraged, the player climbs into the stands to confront Pat, only to be punched out by Glatt. This leads to a tryout with the local team. Despite not being able to skate, Glatt still makes the team and does a good enough job at enforcing to get called up to the next level.
Now with the Halifax Highlanders, Glatt is charged with defending teammate Xavier Laflamme, a former first round pick who lost his confidence after suffering a grade three concussion. His injury was caused by Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber), a legendary enforcer and a hero to Glatt. Widely feared, Rhea is winding down his career in the minors and wants to go out with a bang. Ultimately, a showdown between these two pugilists is inevitable.
(RELAX — this is foreshadowed by the movie poster, promotional photos and early on in the film. Like I said, no spoilers here.)
Glatt epitomizes the romanticized version of a hockey enforcer: fists of steel and a heart of gold. Like real-life enforcers, Glatt’s willingness to protect his teammates and his pride in being a part of something bigger than himself makes him an endearing character to the audience and to the other Highlanders.
Another element that makes Goon work so well is the humor, the dirty, hilarious, not-for-children, definitely R-rated locker room humor. A lot of the vulgarity is dished out by Pat, who seems to be either cursing a blue streak or comparing something in hockey to a bizarre sex act. (Even Bruce Boudreau would blush). Two Russian teammates of Glatt also have a lot of fun at the expense of the Highlander’s irate, French-Canadian goalie (don’t worry — he is NOT a rehash of Dennis Lemieux from Slap Shot). In one scene, the two Russians have a “special moment” with the goalie’s mask. In another, more tame joke, a famous quote by Don Cherry becomes the basis of a prank.
Goon does not apologize for violence, but it does not glorify it either. Bones break, blood splatters and teeth fly — sometimes in slow motion. Close ups and quick editing make you feel like you are in the midst of the melee. In one telling scene, Glatt is fighting an opponent, much to the amusement of a little girl in the stands. Glatt then punches his opponent so hard that the player’s face hits the glass, smearing blood all over it. The little girl’s smile is now gone, her face awash in horror.
At its core, Goon has a good story that, at just a bit over 90 minutes, keeps skating forward, never getting bogged down in any of the subplots. And thankfully, the whole moral issue about fighting in hockey is avoided. How could we be expected to enjoy the fights in the film if we are then asked if fighting is wrong?
Goon won’t make any new hockey fans, but that’s okay, because that was never its intention. It is a comedy about hockey that delivers both comedy and hockey in its own bloody, cursing, uncompromising way. Slap Shot fans rejoice — Goon is the follow-up you always wanted.