Hockey Comedy 'Goon' Tries to Rise Above Sports-Movie Cliches

PENALTY BOX: Goon, Michael Dowse’s comedy about hockey violence, turns out to be a lot smarter than most of its characters.

PENALTY BOX: Goon, Michael Dowse’s comedy about hockey violence, turns out to be a lot smarter than most of its characters.

Goon (Magnolia DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming) wishes badly that it weren’t a typical sports movie. Co-written by Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel, the squirrelly, skinny dude from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, How to Train Your Dragon, and other recent family fare, the hockey comedy clearly emulates/aspires to Slapshot, the profane, cynical 1977 flick that remains the unimpeachable gold standard for sports comedies to this day. And Goldberg and Baruchel and do their level best to outdo their hallmark. Asked the whereabouts of mercurial bad-boy hockey star Xavier Laflamme (Marc Andre Grondin), a teammate cracks, “Probably giving some single mother herpes out in the parking lot.”

But Goon isn’t Laflamme’s story. Far from a star or rink prodigy, Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is the tattooed, thick-necked, thick-headed son of a family of Jewish intellectuals who are openly horrified that Doug works as a bouncer. After displaying his prodigious talent for violence in the stands at a bush-league hockey game, egged on by his obnoxious best bud Ryan (Baruchel), he gets a shot at getting paid to beat up people on skates. But, of course, “Doug the Thug” may be the team goon, only there to provide the spectacle of fisticuffs on ice and, as his star rises, to protect Laflamme from brutalization by opposing teams, but Doug isn’t really a goon at heart.

There are parallels between Scott’s career and Doug’s. The actor has worked fairly steadily in Hollywood, usually doing the kind of work that doesn’t generally earn a lot of respect. Gawkers on the street will probably be hollering “Dude, where’s my car?” at him the rest of his life. But there have been hints—a bit part in Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales here, a sly turn in underdog comedy Role Models there—that Scott isn’t the limited performer/personality the bulk of his IMDb roster might telegraph. His Doug is super-duper dumb, but super sweet. Scott not only makes his face seem bigger than it is, somehow, he also manages to give Doug the eyes of an Ewok: adorable and glassily vacant at the same time. You keep waiting for him to take a dark turn when his affection for would-be hockey groupie Eva (Allison Pill) goes outwardly unrequited. You keep waiting for him to succumb to the cynicism that has lent on-ice success a bitter taste for Laflamme and for Ross Rhea (a wonderful Liev Schreiber), a veteran hockey goon on his way out who can’t quite hang up his skates in peace until he pulps the new guy. But Doug is an innocent, albeit an innocent with swollen knuckles from pounding other dudes for his team.

Doug’s pure heart is what pulls everyone in, onscreen and off, but it also keeps Goon calling ’em straight outta the sports-movie playbook, from the gallop-to-the-championship montage to the final Rocky-esque showdown between Doug and Rhea. Goon’s salty dialogue and not-so-subtle digs at the grim absurdity of professional hockey violence (Rhea beams during a Jumbotron career-highlight reel consisting entirely of brutal beatings) can’t hide its big goopy heart. (Director Michael Dowse also can’t hide what look like a few major story chunks edited out, e.g. the backstory on Eva’s intimacy issues, without which her big emotional moment kind of makes no sense.) Still, you root for Doug, and for Goon, which is a lot smarter than he is.

And then there’s Dragonslayer (First Run DVD and streaming), a recent documentary in which the typical sports-movie arc gets soaked in cheap beer and bongwater until it turns brown. Weedy young Southern Californian Josh “Skreech” Sandoval is a pro skateboarder, or at least he was before he ditched all his sponsors and stopped skating. By the time director Tristan Patterson’s cameras catch up with him, he’s taking a stab at a comeback by entering a few events and skating erratically. It’s never made clear whether his feeble performances and frequent bowlside vomiting are from nerves or excess. Meanwhile, he skates pools, scouting new spots with help from Google Maps, hangs out with his devoted girlfriend, drinks, smokes weed, moves from crash spot to crash spot, and occasionally spends time with his infant son from another relationship.

Yes, Skreech is a dad, after his fashion—maybe it’s the editing, but Skreech appears to put more passion into getting a tattoo in Sid’s honor than into the boy himself. Dragonslayer could be taken as an unusual study of the unprofessional athlete—a talented man with no talent for responsibility, a grown-up still caught up in the adolescent tropes of what is for most a pastime—but it’s hard to know how to take it, as Patterson’s attitude toward his subject is so poker-faced as to be unreadable. Shots of a shorn and shaved Skreech wearing a server’s uniform and a name tag indicate an attempt at a straight job, but it’s dropped into the sketchy narrative with no context, which in fact calls into question whether it’s meant to be a functional narrative at all. The rough-and-ragged home-video-grade footage has a Hipstamatic-y appeal on its own, and Skreech has a certain muzzy charisma, but rooting for him, or for Dragonslayer, seems like over-earnest effort, in this context, and is perhaps ultimately wasted.

© 2012 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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