There is something about hockey that lends itself naturally to comedy when someone makes a film about it. “Slap Shot” is one of the best sports films of the ’70s, and even today, it holds up because there’s something authentic about the world it creates. I think it’s the casual brutality of the sport that makes it so cinematic, and the script that was adapted by Jay Baruchel & Evan Goldberg from the novel by Adam Frattasio & Doug Smith feels like a perfect fit for the comic gifts of director Michael Dowse.
I don’t understand how Dowse is still marginalized. I’m late to the game, but when I caught up with “Fubar” and “Fubar: Balls To The Wall” and realized they were both from the same director as “It’s All Gone Pete Tong,” it was one of those moments where I suddenly realized I’m a fan of someone and didn’t even know it. I’m guessing part of what roadblocked him professionally was the film “Take Me Home Tonight,” which started life as “Kids In America” before it sat on a shelf for a few years. Anytime you have a film that flames out like that, no matter what the reason, it can have a huge impact on your career.
If there’s any justice, “Goon” will start to change things for Dowse. The film tells the story of Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), an aimless guy who is still struggling to figure out his place in the world. He knows he hasn’t made his parents (Eugene Levy and Ellen David) proud, but he also seems to accept his own limitations. He’s not a smart guy, and he doesn’t seem to have any discernible talent. Then one night, he goes to a hockey game with his best friend Ryan (Jay Baruchel), who hosts a public access show about hockey. While they’re at the game, Ryan heckles one of the players to the point where the guy charges him up in the stands, and Doug stands up and gets between them. The quick fistfight that ensues ends with the player unconscious on the floor with a cracked helmet and Doug with an offer to play for his local team as a goon.
While he’s not much of a hockey player, Doug quickly asserts his gift for violence on the ice, and as a result, his team begins to snap into focus around him. His enthusiasm as he starts to find his place in the world is infectious, and I give Seann William Scott credit for giving a rich and nuanced performance as a guy who is, by his own admission, not particularly deep. This may be one of the most charming performances he’s ever given, and in particular, I found myself really taken with the relationship he has with Eva (Alison Pill).
The other key relationship in the film is between Doug and Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), a famous goon for another team who is nearing the end of his career. He’s the man that Doug sees himself evolving into, and Ross recognizes the new model when he sees it in the rear-view mirror. Much of the film is built around the almost inevitable moment when the two of them end up on the ice opposite each other, and Dowse absolutely nails their showdown.
“Goon” isn’t a particularly deep film, nor does it redefine the paradigm for the sports comedy. But I have to give everyone involved credit for doing it right, and making it look almost easy. Bloody, but easy.
“Goon” is available now on VOD and opens March 30th in theaters.