I imagine every review for Goon compares it in some way to Slap Shot. I really don’t want to do that as I think it deserves to be seen as the separate entity it is. Despite the fact that it’s about a struggling minor league hockey team who starts to get a little success with the insertion of more violence, there are definitely palpable differences. The protagonists from both films are polar opposites, the violence is established in two different realities, and the story arcs of the hockey teams are different. Look at me. Right after I say I don’t want to compare the two films I immediately start comparing them. I need to get out of this introduction before it consumes the rest of the review.
Seann William Scott plays Doug Glatt, the enforcer who is actually a sweet guy. His character is lost, neither belonging to anything nor feeling particularly gifted in anyway. When he happens to get a try-out for a local hockey team he makes it not because he’s good at hockey or a strong skater (he’s neither), but because he is physical and an incredible fighter. He plays the role with such conviction that you can’t help but root for the guy. Liev Shreiber plays an aging enforcer on a rival team who is about to retire and is expected to face Scott in one last fight. As much as he is the antagonist, he’s only a “bad guy” in the fact that they show him having a few cheap shots. Mostly he’s a grizzled veteran who made a career out of being a goon. Schreiber embodies the athlete that everyone hates unless he is on their team perfectly, complete with a very “hockey” mustache.
Eugene Levy, Jay Baruchel, and Alison Pill are the only other notable names in the movie but none give very noteworthy performances. Levy plays the cliched disapproving father and Baruchel the annoying friend. Luckily neither get a whole lot of screen time after the first act. Pill does a decent job as the love interest, but her character is so poorly written that it’s a wonder any woman would want to play the role. The tacked on love story arc ended in a very Rocky and Adrien like way that didn’t work and further showed how unnecessary her character ended up being.
The vast majority of the hockey scenes revolve around the fighting. It’s not until the team makes a late push for a playoff berth that we get a good deal more of actual gameplay. It’s shot well enough that it can be appreciated by a guy who only watches hockey without much frequency. It’s frenetically paced and cut to show the high speed of the game but we still follow what’s going on easily. I can’t comment on whether the gameplay itself felt realistic to someone who actually played hockey or knows the game really well, but I doubt they’d have too many complaints beyond small minutiae that can be nitpicked from any sports movie. Some of the fights are amped up brutality-wise than what you’d be likely to see in a regular hockey game, but it was mostly just an excess of blood and ended up being an artistic license that worked well for the film.
The one thing every team sport’s movie must get right to be good is the locker room scenes. Anyone who has played a team sport knows the locker rooms value. It’s where bonds are formed, jokes are told, emotions are flowed, and the thing we miss more than the game itself when we can’t play anymore. Goon plays the locker room scenes well. The funniest lines and best dramatic moments happen there and it’s the place where Scott can really show how important being a part of the team is to his character. There are also moments that I like to think of as the “extended locker room scenes” that involve the team being together and bonding while not playing/practicing and without much outside interference. These scenes usually include when they are traveling together or going out to celebrate. Goon has a few of these and while the travel scenes worked the bonding scenes didn’t. Too often they became a time where they could push the lame romance subplot. There isn’t much that is less compelling than two characters texting each other and then having a phone call where nothing important is said.
Goon won’t be for everyone. It’s very violent with a lot of blood and a few teeth let loose from their moorings. The simple story follows a relatively predictable path, but while you may be able to predict how each story arc will end the joy comes from the journey. The humor can be hit and miss. It was mostly hits for me but I could see why some people wouldn’t appreciate it. I really don’t want to say, “If you liked Slap Shot you’ll like this” but it’s not only true but inevitable from anyone who has seen and enjoyed both. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t immediately going to be followed by a statement saying how Slap Shot is better.. Even though I agree with that sentiment I don’t like when a movie I enjoyed gets crapped on just because it inherently gets compared to a classic. Unfortunately, my only hope would be getting people to start saying, “If you liked Casey Jones from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you’ll like this.” Someone get me Goon’s marketing team on the phone.
Goon is currently rated 164 out of 1782 movies on my Flickchart.