Film Review: Goon (**½)

An odd little hybrid between ‘Slap Shot’ and early Adam Sandler films, ‘Goon’ doesn’t quite know what type of hockey movie it wants to be. It’s obviously not going for heavy drama, but it’s not a broad comedy either, and when it tries to get serious, the tonal shift is pretty abrupt and disrupts the flow of the flick. The movie on the whole has this issue…parts of it work while other parts just don’t. I know that it has its heart in the right place in telling a very Canadian story, but the execution is just too hit and miss. I suppose it’s a combination of the script by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg (working off of Doug Smith’s autobiographical novel) as well as Michael Dowse’s direction never fully jiving together in any compelling way. I was always interested in the story, but it just never tells it in a way that fully satisfies you. One thing that isn’t an issue is Seann William Scott’s surprisingly good lead performance. He sells you on the inherent kindness of this packaged hockey thug with a heart of gold. He suffers from not really having any kind of character arc, but his acting is almost good enough to overcome that. There are certainly things to like here, but there’s definitely a number of issues as well that kept me from fully embracing the flick.

A fictionalized take on the story of hockey goon Doug Smith, this film follows bouncer Doug Glatt (Scott), a sad outsider who doesn’t fit in with his doctor-laden family. He doesn’t really have a place in the world, that is until he goes to an independent league hockey game with his brash friend Ryan (Baruchel). When a player picks a fight with Ryan, Doug steps in and punches the pulp out of the guy. People take notice of the event, and soon Doug has an offer to join the team. He can’t skate worth a lick, but he’s unbeatable in a fight, which makes him a fan favorite and endears him to his teammates. Eventually he’s promoted to a minor league franchise and tasked with helping a former star named Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin) regain his confidence. At the same time, Doug is wooing a promiscuous girl (Allison Pill), and legendary hockey enforcer Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber) is down in the minors after a suspension and taking notice of Doug. Of course he’s set up for a showdown, and boy is it a bloody one.

As mentioned above, Seann William Scott is quite good here. He gives an understated performance while everyone around him is playing things broad as the kind hearted goon who’ll apologize for beating the crap out of you. It makes things kind of surreal at times, but there’s a lot to like in his performance. Ironically, he was originally supposed to be the lead in Kevin Smith’s upcoming hockey tale ‘Hit Somebody’ before deciding to take this role instead. This movie is far more of a small scale work than Smith’s hockey love letter/epic in the making (based off of the terrific Warren Zevon song of the same name), but I definitely can see why Smith wanted Scott in the lead. This may just be his best performance to date. The rest of the cast is mostly wasted, with Liev Schreiber being off screen for most of the flick and talented comedic actors like Eugene Levy given nothing to do. People like Allison Pill, Marc-Andre Grondin, and Ricky Mabe do their jobs, but it’s hardly memorable. Jay Baruchel is memorable, but not in a good way. His character is so annoying that he brings down every scene that he’s in. I usually like Baruchel, but this was a notable exception.

Director Michael Dowse almost fetishizes the blood and violence of the fights in the flick, and I liked that choice, as it does give the movie a style all its own. Sadly, he can’t pace the film well or control the wild tonal shifts, or else this really could have been something. The script by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg has some funny moments and some touching moments, but both often go too far over the top to be actually effective in the long run. I didn’t dislike their work here, but I recognize that it easily could have been better with another pass on the material.

Overall, ‘Goon’ is an interesting failure that can definitely be watched an enjoyed to a certain degree, but just can’t get over the final hump for a recommendation from me. It gets the lead performance right, but the tone is all wrong, not unlike some of Sandler’s early flicks (like I mentioned above). If you’re a big hockey fan and long for the days of when the enforcer was king, then you could find some pleasures here when the film opens later this month, but I recommend waiting for ‘Hit Somebody’, which could wind up being something special. ‘Goon’ just is too average to really succeed on the cinematic ice…

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