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
The Review: As someone who grew up living in a treehouse built slap bang in the middle of the ugly tree, occasionally falling out and hitting every branch on the way down, I’ve always had a lot of sympathy for the beauty / beast type of story and movie. Although, to be fair, we’re not quite in Chewbacca’s less attractive cousin territory here, as the movie makes very clear that Jay Baruchel’s Kirk is resolutely average, with a detailed calculation deriving how he’s a 5. Given that, even early on, he has a certain geeky charm, maybe that’s harsh; it’s also fair to say this movie may have had to work harder, and been more refreshing, if he’d been a 2 or a 3.
As someone who spilled a pint of beer within two millimetres of his father-in-law’s lap the first time they went for a drink, I also know about the social embarrassment that comes with dating and relationships. This movie starts at the part others end at – the guy gets the girl, it’s now about whether he can hang onto her or not. Crucial to that is Jay Baruchel himself, who always comes off as likeable, a sort of more interesting Shia LeBeouf, and he manages to have chemistry with both his colleagues, his family, and crucially with Alice Eve as the ‘she’ of the title.
As someone who’s regularly taken (mostly) good-natured abuse from those groups of family and friends, it’s easy to see how much humour can be mined from these situations, but actually things take a little while to hit their stride. Early situations feel slightly forced, and every other character comes off as either offensive, stupid or both. It takes a trip to Kirk’s family meal to throw up some more realistic, and funnier, situations and better dialogue, and from there the movie starts to hit its stride.
As someone who’s had to… actually, way too much detail (I had to have an operation, but I’ve already said too much), I also understand the things people are willing to put themselves through in the name of love or lust. The characters here do eventually manage to win over sympathies, but what’s eventually a fairly conventional narrative with no unexpected twists and turns is kept interesting by the two leads and the (just about) satisfying streak of warmness and honesty that runs through the whole enterprise.
Why see it at the cinema: As this isn’t likely to be out of anyone’s league, at least some satisfaction should be had by all. Sadly, the only standout imagery is literally just that.
The Score: 6/10