I’ll admit up front that I don’t know anything about hockey. As far as I know, the only two things that distinguish hockey from any other sport where athletes try to place an object in a goal is that hockey takes place and ice and hockey players are renowned for beating the crap out of each other. Lucky for me Goon—not to be confused with Eric Powell’s brilliant comic series The Goon—doesn’t seem to be a hockey movie so much as a boxing movie on ice.
Seann William Scott, best known for playing goofball characters in The Rundown and the American Pie series, plays Doug “The Thug” Glatt, a good natured brute who goes from being a bouncer in a Boston sports bar to an enforcer for a minor league hockey team overnight. Doug has no natural athletic ability. He can’t skate; he can’t shoot. He does, however, possess the ability to take a severe beating and dole out physical punishment in return, and that makes him valuable. Doug’s job is to go out onto the ice and protect those people with talent from getting beaten senseless by enforcers for other teams, and barring that, to at least wreak vengeance.
The advertising materials for Goon reminded me of The Waterboy, the late ‘90s Adam Sandler guilty pleasure. Fortunately, this movie is much better than that. The Waterboy was a parade of grotesqueries. Unlike that movie, Goon really gets by on having a well-developed, likable protagonist.
Screenwriters Jay Baruchel (also pulling acting duties as Doug’s foul mouthed friend) and Evan Goldberg don’t inject many successful jokes or gags into the proceedings. I guess they were hoping that repetition of the word “fuck” and images of Seann William Scott beating people to a bloody pulp would generate laughs. I didn’t laugh much, but something interesting happened: I found myself captivated by the story anyway. By the end of the movie I was rooting for Doug in his face off against his arch nemesis played with reptilian coldness by the always great Liev Schreiber. Even if Goon doesn’t completely work as raunchy comedy, it does function well as a light-hearted sports drama.
And much of that is thanks to Seann William Scott’s brilliantly understated performance in the lead role. As played by Scott, Doug Glatt is innocent and positively beatific. He takes on relentless punishment while never holding a grudge. He constantly attempts to bring out the best in those around him. Unlike his opponent enforcers, Doug doesn’t act out of his malice, and he never attacks anyone without provocation. His role is purely defensive and reactionary. Everyone he beats down has it coming, and doesn’t show a hint of glee while doing it. His duty is merely to protect his teammates and absorb punishment.
Honestly, if Goon hadn’t been written by a couple of Jewish guys, I would have thought that it was a modern day retelling of the Gospels, cleverly disguised with dick jokes and fist fights. Who knows? Maybe it still is. Doug is the adopted child of a Jewish couple; he’s tasked with taking relentless beatings from outside forces, and by bearing those injuries without complaint, he allows everyone around him to become better human beings. The movie ends with a knock-down, drag-out fight between Doug and an almost satanically bent Liev Schreiber in which almost as much blood is spilled than in The Passion of the Christ.
Ah, but maybe I’m stretching it a bit there. Either way, Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg have created a great protagonist in Doug the Thug, and Seann William Scott shows that he can carry a film without playing a hyperactive goof. Hopefully Hollywood casting directors will take note and cast Scott in more varied roles in the future.
In the final analysis, Goon isn’t exactly a great sports comedy on par with Slap Shot or Caddyshack, but it’s a lot of fun. Even if the movie lacks laughs, it sure as hell doesn’t lack heart.