Hockey enforcer’s tale takes center ice
You might not think a hockey movie would qualify as "feel-good" when it cheerily fetishizes violence with lovingly crafted slo-mo shots — set to Puccini! — of blood spatter and knocked-out incisors hitting the ice. But that's precisely the trick pulled off by star Seann William Scott ("American Reunion"), director Michael Dowse ("Take Me Home Tonight"), and everyone else involved in "Goon," which makes a bid for "Slap Shot"-style cred with the Judd Apatow crowd. The movie's unlikely sincerity can't completely offset its ugliness for less bloodthirsty viewers, but it helps, and it does smooth over some narrative rough edges.
Scott plays guileless Doug Glatt, a minor league hockey "enforcer" with limited skating skills and smarts, but whose gift for beating up opponents makes him a commodity. The story was loosely adapted by cast member Jay Baruchel ("Knocked Up") and Evan Goldberg from a book co-written by Massachusetts-bred ex-minor leaguer Doug Smith. Actually, Doug doesn't really play hockey — he gets a tryout only after attending a local game, and pummeling a visiting player who goes into the stands after Doug's mouthy friend (Baruchel, working the accent).
Doug compartmentalizes his sweet-natured demeanor enough that he's quickly promoted to a squad in Nova Scotia, where he's assigned to protect attitudinal phenom Xavier Laflemme (Marc-Andre Grondin). Gradually, Doug starts to win over his ragtag team, as well as naughtily noncommittal cutie pie Eva (Alison Pill, "Scott Pilgrim"). What's slightly less predictable is the outcome of Doug's inevitable clash with grizzled, legendary enforcer Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber, looking the part in a biker 'stache and Barry Melrose mullet).
Schreiber and Scott's coffeeshop heart-to-heart about career pigeonholing is one of the movie's high points. Old-school messages about team pride — respect the logo! — are also nicely handled. And yes, those graphic visuals have definite impact. But other elements just don't. Gore aside, the ice action isn't especially dynamic. And Baruchel's running gutter talk feels like improv that should have been edited. Landing a verbal punch or two is OK — no need to keep pounding our heads against the glass.
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.