Sports comedy films have always had a problem marrying the comedic elements with the dramatic. Some get it right, like DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story and Slap Shot, while others don’t, like Blades of Glory and Kicking and Screaming. Goon is an ice hockey film, based on the book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith. The screenplay was co-written by supporting star Jay Baruchel and Superbad and Pineapple Express writer Evan Goldberg.
Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) becomes a local celebrity after beating up an ice hockey player at a local game and is hired by the coach to be a ‘goon,’ an enforcer whose sole responsibility is to protect talented players from the opposing team. So successful is the dim-witted Glatt that he is brought into the failing minor league team the Halifax Highlanders to protect their star player Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin) whose confidence has been destroyed after being concussed by minor league villainous goon Ross Rhena (Liev Schreiber).
Goon‘s main problem is that it’s not sure quite what it wants to be. It jumps from gross-out comedy, to sports drama, via inspirational drama and independently-spirited comedy. Without ever firmly rooting itself in one of the genres it suffers from constant shifts in tone that make it a mess for the majority of the running time. It’s not funny enough to be a proper comedy and it’s too silly to be a drama, so it sits uncomfortably between the two fro the first third. Once it finds its groove though, with hyper-violence and some classic sports film conventions, the final portion is as satisfying as the best sports films around, and a lot of that has to do with its main stars.
Scott is excellent as the Forrest Gump-like Doug ‘The Thug’ Glatt and his excellent manners and relentless niceness go beyond annoying before becoming thoroughly heart-warming. It’s impossible not to like the simpleton, which is something that every other character in the film comes to realise. Schreiber’s Rhena is closing out a career of on-ice ‘goon’ violence and sees a lot of himself in the young upstart. Their interchanges, including a wonderful diner-scene reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Heat, form the real highlights of Goon. Co-writer Baruchel is a constant source of annoyance, but luckily he is removed from large portions of the film and so the damage his obnoxious character can do is limited. Goon’s main female star is hockey enthusiast Eva (Alison Pill), who is as unsentimental as the rest of the film, but sits perfectly as a foil for the lovable dimwit that captures her heart.
From haggard coach to burnt-out former star player, everyone falls under Glatt’s spell and he drives the action with his child-like wonder at being allowed to be part of the team, something that he had failed to achieve in all other aspects of his life. It is this central performance that gives Goon the heart that is so lacking in the worst examples of the genre.