Regardless of claims that sports are all in good fun, when a bunch of star athletes are pitted against one another, conflict is destined to arise. In baseball, they kick dirt at one another; in football they grab facemasks; in soccer they take a dive; in basketball they foul (a lot). In hockey, they beat the ever-living crap out of one another until one person is a bloody heap on the ice.
Such is certainly the philosophy in Goon, a hockey comedy that embraces its violent indiscretions (though never promotes it) all while poking fun at the fact that being a hooligan might not be all its cracked up to be.Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott) lives out a rather sad and unfulfilling life in rural Massachusetts bouncing at a seedy dive bar and finding only an iota of satisfaction when he is forced to oust a rowdy patron. While attending a local hockey game for an AHL-type league (the organization and all of the team names are fictional) with his foul-mouthed, overcompensating douche bag of a best friend (Jay Baruchel), he finds himself in a brawl with a player. Handily trashing the unsuspecting athlete, he catches the attention of the coach who recruits him to be the new enforcer for the poorly performing team. Doug “The Thug” Glatt is born.The most refreshing aspects of Goon come in two atypical choices by director Michael Dowse, which while glossing over any genre clichés that do slip through, easily distinguish this irreverent comedy from any sports film, let alone a hockey-centric one. Firstly, nobody has any delusions that they are top-tier athletes. These are men on their way out of the “NHL” or are up-and-comers who may never get their big break. There is no shocking assent to the Stanley Cup final (in fact, there is no championship game of any kind), just a desperate move to make the playoffs. The “big game” comes only when Glatt finally has the opportunity to duke it out with the aging enforcer Ross Rhea, played in delightful Newfie-accented fashion by Live Schreiber. Goon is hockey through the eyes of violence.The other contributing factor to Goon’s success is how the character of Glatt is written. On ice or when enraged he is an unstoppable force of fist-throwing nature, but in most other aspects he is a meek failure. His attempts to woo a young lady (Alison Pill) are in a word, awkward, and he only succeeds in his venture because she has a thing for hockey dudes. He is shy and abashed at even the simplest interactions, polite even to those who insult him and has no more chance of becoming a real hockey player than Air Bud would have of competing in the Super Bowl. He is a thug, he knows it and he embraces it. The way Doug sees it, if he can protect his team, his family, it’s a job well done.Goon should work even for those not exposed to the rough-and-tumble sport from The Great White North (though it helps), especially if you are a fan of profanity-laden, ultra-violent, wryly comedic escapism. Scott anchors Goon and easily gives his best, most well-rounded performance to date, easily making us forget he ever played Stifler in American Pie (and easily making us believe he could cave your face in). Although unexpectedly timely considering the NHL’s strong investigation into concussions, Goon is not celebrating violence in a mean-spirited way, merely in a vein that reminds us that a little blood-lust never hurt anybody.