Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: Goon

I don't care about sports—in some respects I actively dislike the entire concept, though I've been known to enjoy live baseball and hockey. Still, the thinking behind serious sports fandom eludes me. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay to the fun hockey comedy Goon is that it's one of those sports movies (alongside the similarly skillful Miracle) that makes the non-sports-fan really understand, if only for a moment.

Based on a real-life career, Goon stars Seann William Scott as Doug, a soft-spoken, good-natured lunkhead with modest aspirations—sort of a less imaginative Andy Dwyer. Except he sort of has a superpower.

Doug, as it turns out, can withstand—and dish out—superhuman amounts of physical punishment. He's therefore recruited by the Halifax Highlanders, a fictitious minor-league hockey team. This basic premise is an effective foundation for Goon to construct a comic sports tale that's surprisingly sweet considering its subject matter.

Goon seems to know that its overall story arc is predictably predictable. What sets it apart is that its emphasis is on the relationships between its well-drawn, well-acted characters. Not a single lead actor here scores a false note. Scott is, and needed to be, endearing and occasionally scary. It's good to see his similarly fun performance in The Rundown (a film recently added to Netflix Instant) wasn't a fluke. Doug's creatively-profane hometown pal is likewise well-played by Jay Baruchel—who was one of the good things about The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and who co-wrote Goon. Liev Schreiber shows just the right mix of integrity and guile as the antagonist, a rival "goon" whose torch is to be passed to Doug. (You'll note I didn't say "villain"; one of the many refreshing aspects of Goon is its lack of any real bad guy. Must be a Canadian thing.)

The rest of the cast is just as effective, from the colorful teammates to the love interest to the Highlanders' wisecracking announcer. Eugene Levy is pretty much just doing his late-era Eugene Levy thing as Doug's disapproving father—a subplot that never really gets resolved, but, as Baruchel's character says, "No offense, but fuck your parents."

I've always felt that hockey is inherently more interesting than basketball or football. The latter's rules are too arcane, the former seems too predictable, and neither has what I consider to be the inherent advantage—which hockey shares with soccer—of low-scoring games. Watching Goon requires only minimal understanding of the game—if you know hockey involves three periods, and now you do, then you're fine.

The flavor of comedy at work here isn't the empty Injuries Are Funny style as seen in Hot Rod (or at least the first few minutes of it, which was as far as I got), nor even Stupid-Funny Yet Genuinely Funny a la Beavis and Butt-Head. The humor's much more character-driven—I get the sense that they wanted to make Canada's answer to Major League.

Goon understands the tribalistic thrill of team sports, the wisdom of carefully-selected non-diegetic music (as opposed to corporate-mandated non-diegetic music), the joy of gentle humor (despite the copious blood and profanity), and the grandeur of thick Canadians assaulting each other. Maybe major league sports doesn't need to continue to exist, if we can get more movies like this in its place. For the superfans, there's always Madden. There shall always be Madden, every year. Even after the Purification.

Star Score: 4 out of 5

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