Directed by: Michael Dowse
Premise: A bar bouncer (Seann William Scott) is offered a position on a semi-pro hockey team to act as a protector for the team’s star player.
What Works: Goon is a very enjoyable sports comedy. The film is a successful combination of the populism of more serious sports pictures like Rocky and Rudy with the goofiness of comedies like Major League and The Bad News Bears. That combination works because the filmmakers are earnest about the hard work and dedication of the hockey players but the story is populated with characters that are idiosyncratic and amusing. This is seen most clearly in the lead role, played by Seann William Scott. Scott first came to public prominence in his role in the American Pie films. In that series Scott played a crass, arrogant, and chauvinistic character and that identity has stuck with the actor through most of his roles since. But in Goon Scott plays a very different kind of character. As Doug Glatt (who is a fictionalized version of real life hockey player Doug Smith), Scott is much more Rocky Balboa than Steve Stiffler; the character is fundamentally a nice guy who finds that his talent for fighting creates opportunities. He is also intellectually simple but he is aware of his simplicity and that self-consciousness makes him very likeable. The most successful sports stories recognize that sports are not an end in themselves; sports are a way of dramatizing the struggles and goals of the characters. Goon is not so much about fighting as it is the story of a man looking for a place and purpose in life and who finds that on a hockey team. This theme is aided by the supporting performance of Liev Schreiber as an outgoing hockey player also known for his fighting skills. Schreiber provides a sufficient antagonist and although he is threatening he also has a melancholic disposition; the character is trying to leave the sport with a certain amount of dignity intact and he sees an opportunity to do that by butting heads with the protagonist. The complementary desires between the two characters gives the film something to build up to and when they finally come to blows there is something at stake bigger than just the fight.
What Doesn’t: Not all elements of Goon are as interesting as the Scott-Schreiber relationship. The film is centered around Scott’s character being hired to be an on-the-ice bodyguard for the team’s star player, portrayed by Marc-André Grondin. The rapport between the two men is weak; the film starts with one man naïve and the other cynical, which later grows into an antagonistic relationship, and finally matures into mutual respect. There is never a compelling motivation to unsettle the cynicism of Grondin’s character or a significant gesture or choice that drives the characters to a reconciliation. This film also gets a little obnoxious in places; co-screenwriter Jay Baruchel, who is likable in other movies, plays a hockey commentator that is so loud and crass that his scenes are unbearable. Goon also has an inherent problem with its lead character’s motivations and actions. This is a film about a hockey player who is rewarded not for his hockey skills but for using un-sportsman like conduct to advance the team. That is a problematic issue for the film, especially since Goon is being released just after the NFL suspended members of the New Orleans Saints’ coaching staff for encouraging similar activity.
Bottom Line: Goon is a fun, if average, sports comedy. It isn’t a great or memorable film but Seann William Scott is compelling in the lead role and it is satisfying in the way that sports films need to be. At the very least, Goon would make an interesting double feature with a self-important, mainstream sports drama like Miracle.
Episode: #382 (April 1, 2012)