Truth be told, I don’t have a particularly great knowledge of Ice Hockey and its various rules and regulations. However judging by Goon, it would appear to be even more of a rough and tumble affair that I first though. Obviously I always knew it was a fairly physical game, but in Michael Dowse’s sports comedy, it gets taken to a whole new level.
Seann William Scott stars as loveable idiot Doug, a sweet-hearted lug who knows how to use his fists. At the start of the film he’s a bouncer in a bar who is ostracized slightly by his doctor father who looks equally ill at ease over Doug’s homosexual brother. In an attempt to raise his spirits, Doug gets taken to a minor league hockey game by his obnoxious friend Pat (co-writer Jay Baruchel) who spends his time goading the opposition players. When one finally snaps and wades into the stands to square up to Pat, Doug steps in and lets his fists do the talking. After witnessing Doug’s fighting prowess, the coach of his local team offers him a slot on their team as an enforcer. The role of an enforcer appears to be to punch and fight opposition players who pose a threat to the more skilful members of his own team. Doug proves a big hit (pun intended) and takes to the role with ease.
Doug’s expertise get noticed by the coach of a team from a larger league who recruits him to Canadian outfit the Halifax Highlanders in order to protect their skilful player Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin). Laflamme was taken out years earlier by veteran enforcer Ross Rhea (Liev Schrieber) and having never quite recovered from the attack, is suffering from a dire lack of form. Rhea meanwhile is currently serving a lengthy suspension for whacking an opposition player of the head with his stick. Doug soon becomes an integral part of the Highlanders team and helps them turn around a faltering season and push for the play offs. Laflamme doesn’t take to kindly to Doug being the new crowd favourite however and despite Doug’s best efforts the two struggle to get along. There’s also the obligatory love interest as local girl Eva (Alison Pill) begins to take a shine to Doug despite already having a boyfriend. As the season draws to a close, all roads point towards a big grudge match pitting new kid on the block Doug against the returning Ross Rhea.
Playing an inherently kind and likeable character sees Seann William Scott playing rather against type. Thanks to performances in American Pie, Road Trip and Role Models, he’s built a solid career around playing the cocksure and mildly annoying funny man. Here however, he’s actually a rather nice human being. Doug is a man who knows his limitations but is nonetheless happy to be able to do something he enjoys. His disapproving parents are snooty and unhappy with his chosen career path, but after years of mediocrity and working in a dead-end job he doesn’t like, Doug appears genuinely happy to be part of a team and being able to for once be of use. Despite his prime role in the team being to slug the opposition in the face, Doug’s not a vicious or angry character; he’s just a simple bloke putting his skills to good use.
Naturally, with the movie revolving around a chap who throws his fists for a living, there’s a lot of bone-crunching violence on display. Anyone with an aversion to seeing a bit of blood being drawn may want to give this one a miss. The violence is often fairly strong but always used in a comedic way. As I’ve said before, I don’t have much direct knowledge of Ice Hockey but you do get the impression that the organized brutality on display is a slightly exaggerated version of the real thing. Footage of the real life player on whom Doug’s rags-to-riches tale is based, run over the closing credits and while the punches don’t quite land with as much alarming regularity as in the movie, its still clear that these hockey enforcers really do absorb a frightening amount of punishment.
There some minor missteps along the way with Goon. The fraught relationship Doug has with his parents is never really resolved and Jay Baruchel is a bit of a let down in the ‘wise-ass best mate’ role. In the hands of say, a Seann William Scott type, it may have worked slightly better. Overall though Goon is a surprisingly entertaining movie. The film’s synopsis isn’t particularly inspiring but the finished article is often amusing and even kind of sweet in places with Doug proving to be a character who you can really get behind and root for. Liev ShcreIber is great as the world-weary veteran and a coffee-house meeting between the two is particularly enjoyable as he lays down some harsh home truths to Doug about the life of the enforcer.
Goon really is much better than you expect it’s going to be and a timely reminder to not judge a book by its cover.