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April 22, 2012

Review: Goon -- Rocky on Ice

Three stars. Can't give it three and a half stars because it's not very ambitious -- it's just a fun sports drama/comedy. It echoes Slap Shot, but it's more like Rudy, and definitely more like Rocky, than it is to Slap Shot.

Graphic Violence Warning: Re-watching, I realize I didn't emphasize enough that the violence becomes hard-R graphic violence towards the end.

Seann William Scott (reviewer bias: I am biased in his favor; I like this actor a lot) plays a bouncer named Doug Glatt, "stupid" by his own self-description, in a depressed blue collar town in Massachusetts called Orangetown. (Sort of like the depressed blue collar town in the north, somewhere, called Charlestown in Slap Shot.)

Attending a very minor league game, an opponent-team player charges into the stands to beat up his friend, who's been heckling him. Doug intervenes, beating the hell out of the hockey player, becoming a YouTube sensation. The coach calls him up and recruits him to be their Goon.

Supposedly this is based on a true story, and if you watch through the credits, you'll get to see the actual guy -- minor-leaguer Doug "The Hammer" Smith -- in some of his fights. I don't know how much is a "true" story beyond the fact that a minor leaguer with the first name "Doug" used to beat people up.

The interesting and unexpected thing here is that they go the exact opposite direction you'd expect a film called "Goon" to go. Rather than being a thug at heart, Doug's actually a very sweet (unbelievably sweet, but I'll suspend my disbelief) and earnest guy. He just happens to be brutally good at violence.

The trick in the screenplay is that he's not what you'd call a Bad Goon, taking out the other team's skill players; he's actually a Good Goon, on the team to punish the other teams' Bad Goons who try to take out his own team's most highly-skilled player -- a big NHL prospect who's stuck in the minor leagues because he got a very bad concussion and now shies away from all possible hits. And so is now completely gunshy and ineffective as a player.

So it's a little like My Bodyguard.

Doug is "stupid" by his own self-description (though he's not really stupid). The charming thing is that while everyone else is cynical about the game, the team, and life in general, Doug's "stupidity" doesn't allow him such "complex" views of things. His outlook is simple: He's on a team, he's loyal to the team, he defends the team, and if the team needs him to bleed, he'll bleed.

Half of the movie consists of him imposing his force on opponents' faces. But the unexpected part is how his basic goodness begins rubbing off on the people around him.

Couple of standouts in the supporting cast -- Billy Burke plays an aging minor leaguer, and I think the team's captain, whose not-very-rousing speeches to his team include too many irrelevant details about problems in his personal life. I really could have used more of this character; ah well.

Liev Schrieber, as you can see in the trailer, is resplendent in handlebar mustache and mullet. He plays Ross Rhea, the NHL's worst thug now ejected from the league, permanently, and, ultimately, picked up by an opposing minor league team. He's the Villain, of course, but I won't say more about him because they take the Hero-Villain relationship into an unexpected direction (though hardly a new direction, especially given this movie's influences).

One thing: The trailer is cut to suggest that this is an all-out comedy, basically Slap Shot, but with a Hanson Brother as the main character. That's not accurate. It is sporadically funny, but it's really a light sports drama and light comedy hybrid. It's only sporadically funny not because jokes miss their mark, but because there aren't as many jokes as the trailer suggests. It's consistently amusing and enjoyable, but often it's just a fairly straight light drama with occasional funny bits.

One other thing: The film may be earnest and have a lot of heart, but that doesn't mean it's a family film. It's every bit as verbally profane as Slap Shot (more so, as current profanity is very specific about sexual acts) and much more brutal. The violence begins agreeably cartoonish and consequence-free but as the movie goes on we see something like the realistic effects of a life of violence carved into the hero's face.

So a cute movie, but with a lot of profanity and a good amount of bloody, teeth-ejecting pummeling.

It's currently on Amazon for $7. I imagine it's on other On Demand outlets but I'm not sure.

Oh, For the Ladies: There's also a very sweet (again, unbelievably sweet) little awkward courtship in between the brutal tooth-dismemberments.

I think it's the romance part that most echoes the tone of Slap Shot. If you re-watch that movie, you might be surprised to discover Slap Shot is more about sex and relationships than about hockey or the Hanson Brothers.

Though, thinking about it, that's just Rocky again, isn't it?

One Criticism: Looking at Rocky, they establish early on the character's in a low place in his life.

In this movie, though, it never really seems like Doug doesn't like being a bouncer. They miss an opportunity to push Doug as an underdog. And I'm not sure why they do. They seem to know What They're Doing, so maybe this was a conscious decision? Maybe they felt they had enough manipulations later on and didn't want to pour them on in the beginning?

But because Doug was never really in a bad place (at least not by his own reckoning), it makes his journey a little less important.

They show his parents' disappointment in him -- his brother is a doctor -- but that scene is played for laughs so there's no real suggestion that Doug is sad about where he is. Maybe he should be -- but it's never conveyed that he is. Corrected: They did, but only for like five seconds. I missed it the first time.

Plus, the "laughs" in that scene -- his brother's gay, it turns out -- aren't funny. One of the few times jokes fall flat in the film. (The other scene with the brother and parents also falls flat on jokes.)

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posted by Ace at 12:11 PM

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