Written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg and directed by Michael Dowse, Goon is a bloody and profane hockey movie. It is based on the real life adventures of Doug Smith, who wrote a book on his unlikely minor league hockey career with Adam Frattasio. The film tries to dig in to the world of hockey, but the overall sensibility feels as wobbly as its protagonist on skates.
Goon is filled with some hockey nuance, it could be argued. Players avoid stepping on the team’s logo in the dressing room, for instance, and they curse like, well, hockey players. But most of the hockey players are portrayed not as athletes but as a series of ruffians and knuckle-dragging thugs, undermining any pride in the game that could be felt by real hockey fans.
Seann William Scott stars as Doug Glatt, a moronic bouncer. He has a successful family and is the odd one out. His hockey obsessed friend (Baruchel) takes him to a hockey game and Doug winds up getting in a conflict with one of the players, knocking him out in the stands. This leads to Doug getting a try-out with the local minor league team because of his toughness. He makes the team, inexplicably, and a star is born.
Glatt is eventually promoted to a higher league because one of their star players, Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), has been scared out of his wits after suffering a concussion (Sid the Kid, anyone?). Laflamme was hit by legendary goon Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber). Rhea is about to retire, but he and Glatt decide that they must fight at least once before that happens.
There’s also a romantic angle involving a girl named Eva (Alison Pill), a self-described “slut” who sleeps with a lot of guys and cheats on her boyfriend. Of course, with Glatt things are different. Eva falls for him and struggles with her emotions, suddenly transformed by the moronic sweetheart’s tendency to treat her like a human being. Also, an entirely misused Eugene Levy and Ellen David play Glatt’s parents.
The timing for Goon is interesting on some level. As a hockey fan, I kept finding myself thinking about the recent rash of concussions, player deaths (Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, etc.) and the diminishing role so-called enforcers have in the modern game. Players that are paid a relative pittance to bash in the faces of their opponents, even after a “clean hit,” have never really been fully respected in the game of hockey. And Goon doesn’t respect them either.
It casts the thugs of hockey as necessary components, having read through Don Cherry’s playbook to be sure, but they’re never given much credit. They stupidly swing their fists at one another and only Rhea has some consequence of his uselessness in the long run. Despite this awareness, he does the job anyway – like an unthinking soldier marching off to war.
Had Goon explored this undying loyalty to one’s “team” a little better, the film would’ve been more compelling. As it is, it sets out to revel in the violence that saw its heyday with the Broad Street Bullies. It paints players as beer-swilling jerks stuck in a proverbial rut. Laflamme, especially, not only nails down all the French Canadian stereotypes but soaks in cocaine and hookers like a rock star. Given the importance of minor league play, especially in the context of getting into the big leagues and working for one’s life, this doesn’t really ring true.
There are also other matters, like how Doug can barely string two words together most times but always seems ready with a perfectly erudite speech when it matters most. Or there’s the fact that there don’t appear to be any team doctors, even after Doug gets the crap beat out of him in the closing fight. Potentially concussed, he sits with Eva in the locker room while the game finishes.
Maybe looking for realism in a hockey movie based on a real life story is a mistake, but these details kept standing out to me. Unable to get into the characters or the plot, I was left thinking about the other aspects of Goon that stood out. Throw Baruchel’s aggravating character in the mix and this is one hockey movie that doesn’t score.