The Gloves Come Off!

(Canada/USA, 92 min.)
Dir. Michael Dowse, Writ. Jay Baruchel, Evan Goldberg.
Starring: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Live Schreiber, Kim Coats, Eugene Levy, Marc-André Grondin, David Paetkau.
The gloves come off! More like a bare-knuckle boxing match than a hockey movie, Goon grabs Score: A Hockey Musical by its pansy ass, pulls its sweater over its head, and punches it right in the face. An ode to hockey violence, Goon embraces the “good old hockey game” in its old-school roots. This is the game where boys become men. The “boys will be boys” chutzpah enlivens Goon with a rambunctious spirit, to be sure, but its ADD frat-house attitude might also be its downfall. 

Dropping more F-bombs than Pulp Fiction and more derogatory slurs than Borat, Goon is Slap Shot with its cuss-factor cranked to the max. Much like the Chiefs of Slap Shot found success by throwing punches rather than by scoring goals, Goon tells of a player with lots of brawn but little talent. That man is Doug ‘The Thug’ Glatt, played by Seann William Scott. A true underachiever, Doug is a strongman. He bounces at the local dive in his Minnesota hometown, much to the dismay of his parents (Eugene Levy and Ellen David). However, whilst attending the local hockey game, Doug defends the honour of his gay brother when a hockey player starts making homophobic insults from the penalty box. Doug cusses back, as does his mouthpiece of a best friend named Pat (played by Jay Baruchel), and the player hops the boards and chases up the stands in his skates. Doug beats the crap out of him, resulting in what Pat delicately refers to as a spurting “face period.”

Doug’s hockey heroics land him a spot in Pat’s Don Cherry-ish hockey-talk show. Amidst the callers who offer an array of penis jokes, the coach of the local team also calls in and offers Doug a tryout. Doug therefore laces up his gay brother’s figure skates and hits the ice. Really, though, he just hits his potential teammates. Seeing a lousy hockey player and one hell of a fighter, the coach assigns Doug to the team.
As Doug plays the game – under the number 69, of course – he becomes a rising star by giving the crowds what they want and by making the other players shake in their blade-laden boots. Doug naturally gets an upgrade to play for a farm team up in Halifax. The task is to guard a once star player (Marc-André Grondin) who has been off his game ever since Ross Rhea (Live Schreiber), the roughest player in the league, concussed him. In Canada, Doug continues his success as a “goon.” The hockey-hosers love him. As do the local puck-bunnies, with Doug quickly hooking up with Eva (the pleasant Alison Pill, aka Zelda Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris) who openly admits that the roughness of the game turns her on. 
Doug’s winning streak runs thin, though, for one can only throw punches for so long until life throws them back. His parents express their disappointment and his fellow players reveal him for what he is: both tell Doug that he is basically still a bouncer, just with a pair of skates. Consequently, Goon uses Doug’s dilemma to ask just how big a role does violence play in the game of hockey. Can one be a hockey player without even knowing how to handle the puck? It seems that yes, one can, for Goon builds to a climax where everything hinges not on whether or not the Halifax Highlanders win the championship, but whether Doug can hold his own when the time comes to duke it out in centre ice with Ross Rhea.
Goon thankfully avoids lots of cheesy convention and sports movie clichés. Based on the book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith, the adaptation by Baruchel and Goldberg forgoes a predictable underdog story and instead boisterously satirizes the culture surrounding the sport. Much of the brass tomfoolery is quite funny: Goon offers a coarse and vulgar snapshot of hockey hosers and their love to see blood spilled on the ice. It is, however, a bit difficult to tell if Goon accepts the racism/homophobia of hockey culture or ridicules it, and the film slightly drops the puck in delivering great satire.

It is funny, though, to see such a blood-soaked bash for Canada’s national past time. Just as Slap Shot did with the Hansen brothers, the juvenile delinquency of these hockey goons is raucous fun. Goon is the good ole’ hockey game: blood, sweat, and tears; hosers and all.

Rating: (out of ★★★★★)

Goon is currently playing in theatres across Canada