(2011)3Perry SeibertThere's an undeniable low-key charm to Michael Dowse's Goon. It's the kind of small-budget comedy that earns your goodwill early and easily, even if it isn't breaking new ground or transcending its readily apparent monetary constraints.
Main character Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) starts the film as an inarticulate bouncer with granite fists and a steel head. When his hockey-obsessed best friend Ryan (co-screenwriter Jay Baruchel) takes him to a local game, the motormouthed superfan verbally taunts a goon headed to the penalty box. The player goes up into the stands after Ryan, but Doug steps in and knocks the dude senseless. The local coach sees an opportunity and signs Doug to a contract, even though he can't skate, handle the puck, or do anything other than punch people really hard -- the coach aptly describes Doug as being "touched by the fist of God."
Soon, he's called up to a minor-league squad to protect a young phenom who has been off his game ever since taking a brutal hit from Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), a legendary enforcer who, after multiple suspensions, is playing out his final year in pro hockey. As Doug adjusts to his new team, he also strikes up a romance with Eva (Alison Pill), a party girl with serious fidelity issues. As his team attempts to make a run at the play-offs, Doug prepares for an epic donnybrook against Ross Rhea.
The main reason Goon works as well as it does is the cast. Scott avoids any comparisons to his career-defining work as Stifler from the American Pie series: Doug is an inarticulate but sweet brute. Kim Coates also makes an impression as the blustery, manipulative coach, as he manages to play the stereotype with an authenticity that gives it some gravity -- ultimately, this is a movie that respects coaches.
The film's secret weapon, however, is Schreiber. Rhea isn't in much of the movie, but he's a haunting presence throughout. The character's world-weariness humanizes him without making him any less imposing. The last thing we see the character do is smile unexpectedly, and in that moment Schreiber manages to communicate Rhea's entire sense of himself and his career. It's a funny, subtly poignant moment.
It would have been great if the film had focused as much on Rhea, the old-timer ending his career, as it does on Doug, the young upstart looking to take Rhea's place as the toughest guy in hockey, but that's not this movie. Goon tries to be a raunchy sports comedy, a feel-good underdog story, and a sweet romantic comedy all in one, and while it doesn't fully succeed at any of those, it gets close enough that we like getting to know all, or at least most, of these characters. It ends up being like the main character, not as good as you want it to be, but with its heart in the right place.
The sports comedy Goon stars Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt, a slacker from a rich family who discovers he has a knack for hockey brawls. Dragged to a game by his best friend, Doug punches out the visiting team's toughest player when the angered thug rushes into the stands. The home team quickly recruits Doug (even though he can't skate) and encourages him to beat up their opponents.