Monday, March 26, 2012

Puck Love: Goon

Doug “the Thug” Glatt is like a Hanson Brother, but with a good heart and a complete lack of guile. He sure can fight though. In fact, he will brawl his way into a minor league hockey contract in Michael Dowse’s crowd-pleasing Goon (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Always overshadowed as the underachiever in a family of doctors, the socially awkward Glatt lives the anonymous life of a bar bouncer. At first, hockey would be the province of his loud mouth buddy Ryan, who produces a hockey webcast. However, when Glatt lays a beat down on a skid row player rushing the stands to get at his obnoxious pal, he catches the eye of Rollie Hortense, the home club manager. Before he knows it, he has a real minor league contract up north, playing for Hortense’s brother Ronnie.

When Glatt starts out, he can barely skate, but that is okay. He was not recruited to score or even defend, but to enforce. He is to be a cement head in the Dave Semenko tradition, except more so. He is to retaliate for cheap shots, spark his team with a momentum swinging altercation, and protect Laflamme. A former hockey prodigy, Laflamme flamed out after finding himself on the received end of a brutal hit from legendary enforcer Ross Rhea. As luck would have, Rhea has been busted down to the minors, building fan anticipation for a cement head showdown.

There will be fists flying, but aside from Ryan’s crude humor, Goon is shockingly endearing. Even though the Halifax Highlanders are a squad of mismatched misfits, Glatt takes pride in being part of the team. Of course, his spirit of camaraderie catches on with most of the grizzled journeymen. He also tries to woo the jaded party girl Eva with refreshing Leave It to Beaver innocence.

Indeed, there is nothing ironic or smirky about Seann William Scott’s work, which is why it is so earnestly engaging. Like every fan favorite, he provides a strong rooting interest—a Rudy level underdog, in love and sport. Who knew Stifler had it in him?

Perhaps since they are both Canadian Kim Coates and Nicholas Campbell (a.k.a. Domenic DaVinci) really look and sound like hockey coaches. Yet, Liev Schrieber (who is American but can easily pass) plays Rhea with appropriate animal intensity, creating one of the best sports movie nemesises since maybe Clubber Lang.

Goon is an unusually sweet sports film. There is something aesthetically appealing about its embrace of the minor league milieu. Ultimately though, Goon works just as well on and off the ice, which is the real test for this genre. Recommended with affection for audiences well beyond the hockey target market, it opens this Friday (3/30) at the Village East.