Movie Review: Goon
By Matthew Huntley
April 10, 2012
If Doug Glatt, as portrayed by Seann William Scott, wasn’t such a nice and likable tough guy, Goon probably would have been a tosser. This is a somewhat narrow-reaching sports comedy with a very distinct audience in mind: hockey fans, particularly minor league hockey fans. The filmmakers know full well they’ll appreciate it no matter what because it speaks their language and knows their culture. But when it’s not about Glatt or the game, it’s an otherwise conventional and rudimentary sports movie, which doesn’t bode so well for non-hockey fans. Luckily, just as he does with his teammates, Glatt (or Scott) is there to save it.
One of the problems seems to be that screenwriters Jay Baruchel and Adam Goldberg, working from the novel Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith, don’t have enough story to tell. They’re so infatuated with the sport itself they figured as long as die-hard fans enjoy it, that’s all that matters. Unfortunately, this makes them look lazy in other respects because the rest of the movie feels routine, in spite of it mostly serving as a love letter to the real-life Glatt, who now works as a consultant and police officer.
When the movie opens, Massachusetts native Doug Glatt (Scott) is a lowly bouncer in a seedy bar. He works hard and is kind to the customers, but his stern Jewish family, headed by his father, Dr. Glatt (Eugene Levy), looks down on him. They wish he was smarter and more ambitious like his brother (David Paetkau), also a doctor. True, Doug may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, which is something the movie goes to painstaking length to show us, but his heart and honor are uncommonly boundless.
One night he and his pal Ryan (Baruchel), who hosts a local cable sports show, attend a hometown hockey game. Ryan picks a fight with one of the opposing team’s players, who climbs out of the penalty box and is about to unleash when Doug drops his corn dogs and starts throwing his fists and butting his head. The hometown coach witnesses the event and offers Doug a position on the team. Doug accepts, even though he knows little about hockey, least of all how to play it, and it doesn’t quite click with him he’s not there to score goals, but rather to act as an enforcer and win fights. In other words, he’s a goon.
After Doug shows improvement, the coach thinks he could go even further and recommends him for a spot on the minor league team, the Halifax Highlanders. Doug moves in with a Frenchman named Xavier Laflamme (Marc-André Grondin), who was once thought to be the next great hockey player until Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber) body checked him so hard it gave Laflamme a concussion and made him timid on the ice, causing him to lose confidence and underperform. But Doug thinks it’s his duty to protect his new teammates and feels a real sense of pride and camaraderie among them, even though they don’t always respond in kind. The same goes for the cute Eva (Allison Pill), a local girl who immediately strikes Doug with love at first sight. Soon enough, his goodness starts to grow on her, just as it’s already grown on us.
Goon doesn’t go anywhere new or even exciting. It’s bound by too many inevitabilities, like the idea that Doug and Ross will eventually meet on the ice and duke it out in an ultimate fist fight; or that the Highlanders’ season will boil down to the very last game; or that Laflamme will somehow find a way to get his groove back. We’re also dealt the all too common cliché of the unsupportive parents thinking their son is wasting his time playing such a barbaric sport. The parental figures are so grossly underwritten that it would have been better to simply eliminate them from the screenplay.
The movie is also padded with tired, juvenile humor, courtesy mostly of Baruchel’s Ryan, who drops the F-bomb every other sentence and makes crude sexual jokes. We’ve seen and heard this all before and it’s not like Baruchel puts a new spin on it. And the way the movie paints Doug’s stupidity is a tad extreme, often to the point where it’s too unbelievable. Would a guy like Doug really trip over his own words so much?
But for all its gritty and graphic violence (the effects of which are actually executed quite well) and uninspiring vulgar humor, the movie is harmless and even contains a few laugh-out-loud moments, especially in the scenes where Doug is learning how to play hockey or just being himself. It’s funny, but I would have preferred a movie where we get to simply watch Doug be Doug and not have the plot revolve around hockey at all. Doug the person is much more interesting, thanks to Scott’s surprisingly genuine performance. He creates such a gentle and lovable character, one whom we believe wholeheartedly, that we can forgive the movie for its other shortcomings. Schreiber is good, too, and he and Scott share a well written scene in which Ross compares being a sports star to being a soldier: “they only like you when you’re fighting the war.” While there’s some truth to that, it doesn’t apply to Doug. We like him both on and off the ice.