Written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, 2012’s Goon is a loose adaptation of Doug Smith’s autobiographical book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey. It is also a brash, crude, bloody, mean-spirited and nasty motion picture, but it’s these exact qualities which makes the film such a uniquely enjoyable treat. Indeed, despite ostensibly being an uplifting underdog tale, Goon does not fall into the traditional sports film category, as there are no feel-good comebacks or inspiring coaches. Rather, the picture is wall-to-wall swearing, gushing wounds and punches, with bits and pieces of romance and debauchery tossed in for good measure. It never exactly reaches exhilarating comedic heights, but Goon is fun and watchable enough, and even those without an interest or understanding in ice hockey should enjoy it.
A dim-witted albeit affable brute, Doug Glatt (Scott) works as a bouncer in Massachusetts, but his unrewarding trade renders him a tremendous disappointment to his family. While on the sidelines during a hockey match, Doug shows off his unbelievable fighting abilities and sheer brute force, impressing a local hockey coach into convincing Doug to give the sport a try. Called upon to use his pugilistic tendencies to protect his teammates, Doug unexpectedly becomes a star player in the hockey world. He can barely skate and doesn’t know much about the sport, but his ability to beat the shit out of anyone gives him the opportunity to try his hand at the big time in Canada. His task is to watch over burnout Xavier LaFlamme (Grondin), who scores more drugs than goals. Doug finds it hard to fit in with his team, however, and the threat lingers of league menace Ross Rhea (Schreiber) who’s legendary for his beat-downs. Meanwhile, Doug finds love in promiscuous local woman Eva (Pill), who’s disarmed by Doug’s sweet side.
Goon is fairly predictable from a narrative standpoint. Although it disposes of several clichés often glimpsed in sports films, the picture’s final outcome is still unsurprising. Nevertheless, Baruchel and Goldberg’s script is otherwise solid, smartly devoting as much time to Doug’s personal life as his exploits on the ice. And while the hockey scenes are good fun, the film really sparkles during scenes of Doug and his teammates, and his romance with Eva gives the picture a sweet, heartfelt core which feels neither half-hearted nor tacked on. Goon‘s pacing is admittedly uneven, and the film loses momentum into its third act, but it promptly recovers with a ripping climax featuring a satisfying confrontation between Doug and Ross Rhea.
It’s clear that Baruchel and Goldberg are hockey enthusiasts, as Goon is packed with detail about the sport. But while there are several puck-oriented sequences, the film is ultimately a celebration of an aspect of hockey that’s been downplayed of late: badass fisticuffs on the ice. It makes sense, too; I mean, are there any other team sports which feature mano-a-mano conflicts that are actually tolerated by referees? Fortunately, the fights are well-staged here, and director Michael Dowse and his team have skilfully captured the speed and danger of ice hockey. The hockey sequences are not perfect since more visual creativity would have been beneficial, but they’re proficient and smooth. Likewise, the locker room bantering is lively and energetic. Hockey players and followers will pick up on more of the in-jokes and slang, but the uninitiated should not be discouraged as there’s plenty of humour here to be enjoyed by all.
Ever since his infamous appearance as Stifler in American Pie, Seann William Scott has enjoyed a career playing likeable, comedic-centric supporting characters. Goon is Scott’s first movie where he actually plays the lead protagonist rather than a supporting character or as part of an ensemble, and he handles leading man responsibilities extremely well. He easily sells Doug’s brutish abilities and he’s a believable fighter, yet Scott also permeates the character with a sincere core that allows us to like him. Moreover, Scott is essentially the antithesis of Stifler here, which really shows the actor’s unexpected range. Alongside him, an unleashed Jay Baruchel steals scenes as Doug’s marvellously foul-mouthed best friend. Baruchel often plays soft-spoken nerds, so it’s hilarious to see him in such a vulgar role. Meanwhile, Alison Pill is funny and likeable as Eva, and Liev Schreiber makes the most of his antagonistic role.
Goon is a mightily pleasing and refreshing comedy, providing a nice handful of laughs and a few entertaining blasts of hockey-playing brutality. It’s standard in terms of narrative trajectory, to be sure, and more energy and laughs would be appreciated, but it’s hard to be entirely dissatisfied with the flick.