"Goon" borrows so much from 1977's "Slap Shot," the king of raunchy hockey films, that it seems to have skated right out of the 1970s. Add to that a dose of "Rocky" (1976), and the lone signs that it's set in contemporary Canada seem to be cell phones, websites and helmets on all the players.
"Goon" comes from the minds of Evan Goldberg (co-writer of "Superbad") and actor-superfan Jay Baruchel. Like "Slap Shot," the film roars through hockey's gritty minor leagues with sticks raised and fists flying.
2 1/2 stars = Good
- Starring: Jay Baruchel, Seann William Scott Liev Schreiber.
- Rating: R for brutal violence, pervasive profanity, some strong sexual content and drug and alcohol use.
In our current concussion-conscience era, the movie's celebration of on-ice violence seems excessive, even in the name of a bloody good time. But just when you think you can't endure one more f-bomb or vulgar sexual reference, "Goon" dekes like an all-star and reveals it has a heart.
There is some truth to bolster the story of a hard-punching bouncer who is transformed into an on-ice enforcer. The script takes inspiration from the book "Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey Into Minor League Hockey," about boxer-turned-player Doug Smith and his fighting days with a half-dozen teams from 1988-98.
In the film, the goon in question is Doug "The Thug" Glatt, played with conviction by Seann William Scott. He finds harmony in what should be the warring natures of sweet innocence and hair-trigger brutality, and it's hard not to root for his rags-to-Rocky ascent.
His father the doctor is played by Mr. Scott's "American Pie" co-star Eugene Levy, who is anything but proud of his son's on-ice antics.
"I'm stupid," Doug tells his father, but hockey has given him a purpose. "I can fight. I'm strong. I protect people. You should be proud of me."
"Proud of you?," Dr. Dad says. "They call you 'Thug'!"
Glatt gets ecstatic support from his best buddy, Pat, played by Mr. Baruchel. Pat, who deserves major penalties for excessive use of expletives and vulgar gestures in his everyday life, films fights and glorifies them for his website.
Glatt is vaulted from bouncer to enforcer when a player comes into the stands during a game, and Glatt, there as a spectator, delivers a KO punch. He is invited to join the team and learns to skate, but it's his fighting skill that shoots him to the upper echelon of the minors. Glatt is sent to Halifax to help resurrect the career of apparent burnout Xavier LaFlamme (a believable Marc-Andre Grondin). The hot-shot scorer has become a boozy shadow of his former self after a vicious hit courtesy of Ross Rhea, the reigning goon of the league.
Liev Schreiber as Rhea is on screen far too little, but when he is, he elevates the proceedings, even while sporting an outdated Fu Manchu mustache. Rhea faces his enforcer role and upcoming retirement with a self-awareness that the younger Glatt will never have.
Their encounter in a diner recalls a similar scene from the film "Heat," in which cop Al Pacino and criminal Robert De Niro declare a short truce at a restaurant table.
"So you're the new me, eh?" Rhea says when Glatt takes a seat across from him. He attempts to impart words of wisdom, telling Glatt, "Everybody loves a soldier until they come home and stop fighting."
It's all lost on the big-lug thug, who tells Rhea, "If they need me, I'll bleed for my team."
And so he does.
The on-ice confrontation between the league's best-known goons and the relationship between Glatt and the hockey groupie (Alison Pill) he adores are sure to draw some "Rocky" comparisons. There's also much of "Slap Shot" to be seen in the aloof LaFlamme and his mostly sophomoric, dysfunctional teammates.
Watching "Goon" from the perspective of a Penguins fan, it may be impossible to separate the joyfully bloody brawls and vicious hits from real-life injuries suffered by Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux's call for stricter rules to protect players. When LaFlamme suffers his second concussion from a blind-side hit by Rhea and both players are back on the ice way too quickly, we know we are in the realm of hockey fanboy fantasy.
Michael Dowse directs with a sure eye for celebrating minor leaguers as unruly frat boys, hockey enforcers as the heroes among them and toothless grins as a badge of glory. He's also lucky in having the one-two punch of Mr. Scott and Mr. Schreiber, who deliver winning performances and give "Goon" its heart.
Opens today at AMC-Loews.
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960. First Published March 30, 2012 4:00 AM