Blue line is a cool punch line
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Apr. 20, 2012
Seann William Scott's character in "Goon," an infectiously appealing comedy about an ice hockey enforcer, is the anti-Steve Stifler, a sweetly puppylike opposite of the vulgar, sex-obsessed jock Scott made famous in the "American Pie" movies. His performance as Doug Glatt - a polite, slightly dim and almost preternaturally nice bar bouncer who finds himself trading punches in the Canadian minor league - is reason enough to see the film, which otherwise is a by-the-book sports comedy.
Based on the memoir by retired minor-leaguer Doug Smith, who now works as a police officer and professional hockey fight coach, "Goon" offers an amiably tolerant - if blood-spattered - portrait of the hockey enforcer. (For non-fans, that's the player whose sole job is not the ability to skate or to score, but to intimidate the opposing team with the threat - or, more likely, the promise - of violence.)
The film opens with a shot of blood - and a tooth - falling on ice. Filmed in slow motion, it's an almost beautiful, if tongue-in-cheek image. And it's played for laughs that it will probably get, unless one thinks about the head injuries that are common to those who play this rough version of the sport. The tragic death of NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard last year, at the age of 28, casts a dark shadow over the film. Other than an offhand remark about head trauma by Eugene Levy, playing Doug's worried father, the film blithely ignores the obvious, and disturbing, dangers of repeated concussions.
If you can manage the mental trick of willful oblivion - as many hockey fans do, cheerfully accepting the fights as a fact of life - you'll probably enjoy "Goon."
It's suitably rude and crude, and often funny, as long as you can stomach the gay jokes. They come fast and furious, and even more frequently than the blood, in crass trash talk spoken by Doug's teammates and his hockey-freak best friend (played by Jay Baruchel, who co-wrote the script with Evan Goldberg). The fact that Doug's brother Ira (David Paetkau) is gay - and that the first fight Doug gets involves his chivalrous defense against a gay-bashing bully - somewhat redeems the borderline excessive emphasis on gay-themed insults.
To its credit, "Goon" treats Ira's homosexuality as no big deal, just as it does the steady stream of sex jokes. As unpleasant as they sometimes are, they feel accurate, at least for a locker-room setting.
Anchoring the film is Scott's performance, which is, to put it plainly, impossible to resist. Sure, the film itself may be formulaic and coarse. And Doug, despite his manners, is still a guy who makes his living punching people in the head, gladly and smilingly.
But whether it's Doug's coach (Kim Coates), the girl he has a crush on (Alison Pill), his obnoxious star teammate (Marc-Andre Grondin) or a rival enforcer (Liev Schreiber), the hero of "Goon" is just so darn eager to please that you forgive him, and the movie, their flaws.
Contains obscenity, violence and sexual humor.