*** (out of four)
“Goon” pulls off a trick even more impressive than asking average Americans to care about minor league Canadian hockey. Featuring many, many scenes of fist-to-face aggression, the movie not only makes you accept the institutional reason for the punch but fall in love with the guy issuing the beat-down.
That’s Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), who’s not the smartest guy or the world’s best hockey player, but finds his minor league career soaring once people realize his skills at pummeling members of the opposing team. Or his own team, if necessary. Rooted on by his best friend (Jay Baruchel, who penned the script with Seth Rogen’s writing partner Evan Goldberg), Doug sets on a literal collision course with Ross Rhea (an intimidating Liev Schreiber), a legendary on-ice fighter who won’t stand for Doug taking the title of hockey’s biggest badass. Meanwhile, Eva (Baruchel’s real-life fiancé Alison Pill) can’t resist Doug’s simple kindness (he confesses to her, “Garbage blows in my face sometimes”), her boyfriend notwithstanding.
What sounds like violent, juvenile nonsense (or a demented spin on “Slap Shot”) is actually a foulmouthed comedy that’s deceptively sweet--a portrait of a bruiser who knows when to strike and when he deserves to be struck.
Inspired by the true story of minor league hockey player Doug Smith, “Goon” balances the locker room’s rampant homophobia with Doug’s support for his brother (David Paetkau), who is gay. The script’s absurdly straightforward; Doug merely does what he does, and everyone else considers whether or not to come around.
“Goon” makes no apologies for hockey violence, bottling the enthusiasm that longtime fan Baruchel has for the rougher aspects of the game. Clearly a guy employed to knock out teeth may not inspire a lot of affection; yet in Scott’s endearing performance, Doug becomes a decent person who winningly embraces his task of protecting a teammate (Marc-Andre Grondin) whose concussion at Rhea’s hands has left him skittish. Doug’s a role player making the best of a limited skill set and, in the meantime, nearly takes the viciousness out of a punch to the face.
Hockey fans don’t exactly come off as sensible, intelligent people, nor does director Michael Dowse (“Take Me Home Tonight”) prove that he should join the roster of filmmakers in the Judd Apatow universe. Still, the often-hysterical “Goon” finds legitimacy in gloves-off conflict resolution and delivers enough one-liners for two good comedies. “Well,” a TV broadcaster exclaims following a horrendous version of “Oh, Canada,” “That was borderline treasonous.”
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