Saturday, December 8, 2012

Overlooked Gems #48: Goon

Grade: 83 (A-)

I’m not much of a sports guy. I’ve never been one to spend Monday nights watching football, I don’t know too much about soccer or hockey, and even my favorite sport, baseball, is something I’d call myself a casual fan of, at best. Similarly, I’m not a big fan of the average sports movie, having never been moved much by Rudy, Field of Dreams, or The Natural. But there’s a kind of sports movie I’m a big fan of: the rough, unapologetically profane ones along the lines of Bull Durham, Major League, The Bad News Bears, and White Men Can’t Jump. These are the films that capture the excitement of the sport without falling prey to cornball nobility or self-importance. This year’s proudly sweartastic hockey film Goon would rank as one of the best in years, and that it manages to be a wonderfully sweet-natured film only helps.

Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott) works as a bouncer in a Massachusetts bar, but he’s such a nice guy that he apologizes to people before beating them up. His father (Eugene Levy) is disappointed in Doug, too dumb to follow in his footsteps as a doctor. One day while attending a minor-league hockey game with his friend Pat (Jay Baruchel), Doug has an argument with a player who yells a gay slur. Angered and wanting to defend his gay brother, Doug knocks out the player. Doug is then hired as an enforcer for the home team. He can’t skate or play very well, but his ability as a fighter is noticed and he’s hired by the Halifax Highlanders, a minor league team. Doug becomes one of the most popular players on the team and earns the nickname “Doug the Thug”, but he’s still a fundamentally nice guy. Soon the Highlanders end up in playoffs, where Doug gets a chance to fight his idol, legendary hockey enforcer Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber).

Director Michael Dowse has a mostly workmanlike comedy-director touch (though his slow-motion shots of blood and knocked-out teeth hitting the ice suggests a comic Raging Bull), but the script by Baruchel and Superbad/Pineapple Express writer Evan Goldberg is a smart mix of lowbrow comedy (“We gotta go gay porn hard!”), mythic sports movie, and deft sweetness. Best of all is that the film doesn’t apologize for the violence that goes hand-in-hand with hockey, making it seem almost like a necessary element to a rough sport. The climactic fight between Schreiber and Scott is both exciting and strangely moving in that Scott gets a chance to take on his hero and Schreiber finally finds a worthy opponent who takes a much maligned job very seriously.

The film is stocked with a number of strong supporting performances, from Schreiber as the mean but strangely honorable Rhea to Alison Pill as a hockey groupie who falls for Scott in one of the sweetest romances in a comedy in years. But the film belongs to Scott, who gives his best performance since 2008’s Role Models as a man whose strength and dimness is only outpaced by his big-heartedness. The films best moments all belong to Scott, who gets the biggest laughs whenever he messes up trash-talking (“I’ll light your as…back up…on fire!”) and whose romantic gestures and genuine love for the game make him an endlessly likeable protagonist. He may be a goon, but he’s our goon.

This film is available on Netflix Instant.

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