Friday, March 2, 2012

Movie Review: Goon

Goon *** ½
Directed by: Michael Dowse.
Written by:
Jay Baruchel & Evan Goldberg based on the book by Doug Smith & Adam Frattasio.

Starring: Seann William Scott (Doug Glatt), Jay Baruchel (Ryan), Alison Pill (Eva), Liev Schreiber (Ross Rhea), Eugene Levy (Dr. Glatt), Marc-André Grondin (Xavier Laflamme), Kim Coates (Ronnie Hortense), Nicholas Campbell (Rollie Hortense), Richard Clarkin (Gord Ogilvey), Jonathan Cherry (Marco Belchier), Ricky Mabe (John Stevenson), George Tchortov (Evgeni), Karl Graboshas (Oleg), Larry Woo (Park Kim).

Hockey movies normally suck. I`m not quite sure why that is, but very few movies have been made about hockey over the years, and even fewer of those films are watchable, let alone very good. Part of it may well be that some hockey movies seem to be made by people who know nothing about hockey (really, stick duels, Youngblood. Iceland is a hockey power house, Mighty Ducks 2. C`mon). The only hockey movies that come readily to mind that function as more than guilty pleasures are Slap Shot, Miracle and The Rocket. You can now add Goon to that list. Goon wants very badly to be the Slap Shot for a new generation – and you know what, it succeeds.

Loosely based on the real story of Doug Smith, Goon follows Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a Massachusetts boy who is the source of never ending embarrassment of his adoptive Jewish parents. Unlike his brother, he is not following his father into the medical world. The only thing he is good at is being a bouncer. But at a hockey game, he gets into a fight with one of the players, and knocks him out cold. The coach sees this, and in need to a tough guy, invites Doug to try out for the role. The fact that he has never played hockey, and cannot really skate, doesn`t matter. He can fight, and that’s all they need from him. Soon, he`s called up to the league just below the NHL. The team has a highly touted prospect, Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), but he needs someone to protect him. That`s where Doug comes in. Meanwhile, one of the toughest guys in NHL history has just been sent down to the same league to finish off his final year. We know from the beginning that the movie will climax not with a championship game or a big goal – but an epic fight between Doug and Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber).

Goon sticks with a well-worn plot of sports movie clichés - the scrappy underdog who gradually gets better, a divided locker room where no one seems to care gradually coming together, a barking mad coach, the sweet romance with a puck bunny, the profanity spewing best friend more psyched about his friends success than he is and hilariously clueless color commentary to the on ice action. And yet, while the movie milks these clichés, it works for a many reason – the biggest being that the movie is actually funny. For those who only know Seann William Scott as Stifler from the American Pie movies, who may well have missed his growth as a comedic actor, particularly in the little seen, and under rated indie The Promotion. Like that film, Scott’s performance in Goon could not be further away from his Stifler image. Goon, and Scott, does a great job of highlighting one of the seeming contradictions in being a hockey enforcer – that these men who make their living with their fists, are often the nicest, sweetest guys around. Scott’s Doug Glatt is sweet, nice, awkward, a little slow perhaps, but also completely sincere. He embraces hockey immediately, because it allows him to be part of a team – he knows what his role is, and does it without question or complaint. Nowhere is his sweetness more apparent than in his budding romance with Allison Pill’s Eva, a puck bunny, who is trying to “stop being a slut” (her words, not mine) and already has a boyfriend, and yet she cannot help herself from falling for Doug. Their hilariously aborted first date has Doug bring her a series of gifts – the best being a plush toy of his team’s official mascot (a Highlander). But when he finds out she has a boyfriend, he backs off. That would be crossing a line that he does not want to cross. Unlike most sports movie romances, this one feels genuine – there is real feeling between these two, and it is played perfectly by both actors.

I also have to admit that I loved Liev Schreiber as Ross Rhea – who we see only in video clips for much of the movie. His Ross Rhea is much liked Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now – a larger than life figure that neither the audience nor the films hero can barely believe exists. But Scott and Schreiber share a near perfect scene in a diner – heavily influenced by DeNiro and Pacino squaring off against each other in a similar scene in Heat. These two respect each other, but Ross is trying to spare Doug a little – teach him something in that scene telling him “just don’t try and be a hockey player. It will only break your heart”, which verbalizes another truth about hockey goons – many didn’t want to be a goon, they wanted to be a hockey player, but when it became clear they didn’t have the talent to make it on their own, became enforcers as a way to at least stay involved in the game they love. It is a perfectly played scene – and their climatic fight scene is inarguably the greatest hockey fight in movie history. No, this blood battle between these two titans have little to nothing to do with actual hockey fights, but it is visceral and satisfying in a way a real hockey fight never could be,

Goon is the third movie in the past three years made by Canadians, for Canadians, to try and exploit our nation’s obsessed love of the game. But while audiences saw through the phoniness of the previews of Score: A Hockey Musical and Breakaway, and stayed far, far away from them. But Goon is a completely different beast – probably because writers Jay Baruchel (who is hilarious as Doug’s best friend) and Evan Goldberg took the time to make the characters feel real, and also made the film funny. And director Michael Dowse delves headlong into the movie, going over the top with the violence, but never too far to make the movie into camp. In short, Goon is the hockey movie Canadians have been waiting for.

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