Review: Goon

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The Pitch: The Hockey Rocky.

The Review: The sports movies are in thrall with the underdog. It’s hard to imagine a film version of, say, a Barcelona FC sweeping all before them in Europe or Tiger Woods in the days when all he could do was win; without the inherent drama of the triumph over adversity, they have little to work with as the drama normally comes from the nature of the sporting event itself. But it’s not just sporting events that have underdogs, or winners and losers; ever since he made a name for himself in American Pie, the rictus grin and middle-distance stare of Seann William Scott have made him an unlikely leading man, but that’s just a failure of casting directors to marry him to the right material. We can’t all be the witty raconteur who’s the life and soul of the party, ready with a pithy comeback at any moment, and Scott’s Doug Glatt is most definitely not that man.

While all of his rather Jewish family are at a loss to understand his inability to hold down a worthwhile job, Doug does at least have two gifts: he’s very good at brawling, and he happens to be in the right place at the right time, a defence of family honour at an ice hockey game leads him to be offered a spot on the local team. But they’re not after his skills with a hockey stick; it’s his fists and his incredible ability to be repeatedly punched in the head that make him an invaluable asset for the local team. Forrest Gump had an almost wilful ignorance of the world around him which made him a complete innocent; Doug is self-aware, but a nice guy to the point of almost sainthood, which doesn’t seem to be helping his team-mates or his instant attraction to hockey bar girl Eva (Alison Pill).

Many of his previous roles have required him to be self-absorbed and sleazy, so innocent and endearing is a refreshing change of pace for Seann William Scott. He’s helped out by a script, from co-star Jay Baruchel and prolific co-writer Evan Goldberg that understands his strengths as an actor completely, and makes the most of them. Baruchel is also good value in a smaller role as the host of a foul mouthed cable TV hockey show, but the other standout is Pill, who makes the perfect foil for Scott’s slightly wider-eyed than normal purity. Sporting an early contender for best moustache of the year, Live Schreiber also gets to growl and grizzle as the older version of Doug the Goon, Ross Rhea, coming to the end of his career and waiting for the inevitable time when the two of them will come face to face.

There’s a warm feeling all over from Goon, partly despite and partly because of the satisfying crunches whenever violence erupts in the hockey rink. Goon doesn’t pull its punches; the first shot of the film is of a tooth cascading down onto the ice in an arc of blood, but the roughness is never over the top and balanced out by a good selection of fun moments and the burgeoning romance. There’s a few smaller sub-plots but they’re effectively padding out the running time and really neither add much or provide too much distraction. The actual hockey is well staged and clear, and Baruchel and Goldberg know the emotional beats they need to hit to keep things interested. While it’s just a little disposable, it’s good Friday night entertainment and Goon is one underdog that manages to go the distance.

Why see it at the cinema: Comedy violence on a wide canvas in glorious Technicolor, watching every drop of spilled blood scatter across the ice. Plenty of laughs to share with a big audience as well.

The Score: 7/10

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