One of the earliest scenes in director Michael Dowse’s bombastic sports comedy, Goon, should be screened in film schools as a simple yet spot-on perfect example of how to establish time and place in a movie. The camera glides across a bar, taking in the many different beers on tap, though which we can see a hockey game playing on a wall-mounted HD TV screen. We then cut to Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), the bar’s bouncer, a somewhat imposing yet amiable-looking fella, standing in front of Big Buck Hunter video game, arms folded as he intently watches the hockey game with a mixture of fascination, longing and reverence.
From these two images, you know exactly where you are in the world of Goon, the rough and tumble tale of a man who finally admits he’s good at exactly one thing (fighting) and finds the outlet where he can get away with it (hockey). While it can’t quite be considered a full-on teammate of arguably the best hockey movie ever made, Slapshot, it at least has a place in the penalty box, bruised and battered and eager to get in the game and put on a good (and often bloody) show.
Doug Glatt is a bar bouncer on the freight train to middle age, a good-natured lost soul living in a small town in Massachusetts who’s starting to become bothered by the fact that he doesn’t really have a “thing” in his life. His best pal, Ryan (co-writer Jay Baruchel), an excitable amateur sports talk show host, takes him to a local hockey game to cheer him up, where Doug gets into a fight with a visiting player for indulging in a derogatory homosexual euphemism (Doug’s doctor brother, Ira — and the apple of his parents’ eye — is gay). The unexpected spectacle impresses Coach Rollie Hortense (Nicholas Campbell), who invites Doug to try out for the team. Doug ends up being a so-so skater but a total force of nature on the ice, turning random bouts of fisticuffs into crowd-pleasing high art.
Doug is soon off to the Great White North to join the Halifax Highlanders, run by Rollie’s temperamental brother, Ronnie (Sons of Anarchy‘s Kim Coates, who all but walks away with the show). As a Highlander, Doug clashes with his teammate and roommate, the decadent, self-loathing Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), falls in love with a cute local girl, Eva (the ridiculously adorable Alison Pill), tries to finally win the respect of his parents (Ellen David and Scott’s American Pie co-star, Eugene Levy). . . and goes up against the infamous Ross Rhea (Live Schreiber, having a blast in full-on villain mode), the brutal star player of the Highlanders’ arch-enemies, the St. John’s Shamrocks.
The screenplay for Goon, written by Baruchel and Seth Rogen’s frequent writing partner Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express), is a gloriously filthy thing, the kind of profanity-laden script that transcends into crude poetry in the hands of the completely dedicated cast. This crude and lewd underdog tale of self-actualization through extreme violence is as foul-mouthed and brazenly non-PC as you can possibly get, though it rarely gets tedious or tiresome; Goon has a strange ability to constantly reinvent itself with almost every scene, making every new character and challenge introduced on Doug’s journey seem fresh and lively. And as terrific as the entire team is, it’s Seann William Scott who emerges as the star player, delivering his most likable performance to date as “the nicest guy you’ll ever fight”; it’s also, rather surprisingly, his most nuanced and nicely underplayed performance as he keeps his trademark doofus grin in check, quietly earning the spotlight rather than trying to hog it as he’s prone to do in the American Pie movies.
Ultimately, Goon might be too plot-thin to really make its mark in the pantheon of sports films, and the final face-off between Doug and Ross isn’t quite as cathartic (or dramatically satisfying) as the filmmakers seem to think it is. But in a time when even the raunchiest of R-rated comedies are starting to feel a little watered down, Goon serves as a much-needed punch in the face.