The latest by Canadian director Michael Dowse (Fubar, It’s All Gone Pete Tong), Goon may seem patterned off Rudy or Rocky in the way it follows Seann William Scott’s unlikely rise from the junior leagues to a farm team for an unlicensed National Hockey League stand-in. It was inspired by the true story of hockey pro Doug Smith, though, as reported in a biography adapted to the screen by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg. That aside, the film’s giddy violence and scatological humor share more in common with bygone hybrid sports-comedies like The Longest Yard, Major League, and, Necessary Roughness. Goon opens in a tiny Massachusetts town where Scott works as a barroom bouncer so big-hearted, he apologizes to patrons before knocking them out in the back alley. After defending his big-mouthed best friend (Baruchel) at a local hockey game, Scott gets called up to try out for the hometown team, where he’s re-christened “Doug The Thug.” His inability to skate is offset by his talent for taking down his opponents with a swift sock to the jaw, a gift that eventually gets him transferred to a Halifax farm team to protect a self-destructive star player (Marc-André Grondin) while preparing for a toe-to-toe with Liev Schreiber’s graying league-enforcer legend.
Goon leavens its well-worn sports-flick trajectory with two factors. The first is its effective, practically acrobatic dick ’n’ fart humor. Goon is unabashedly crass and violent, establishing a rare equilibrium between faithfully rendered splatter and jokes about skull-fucking. But the movie’s real secret weapon is Scott. As in David Wain’s excellent Role Models (or the less excellent Southland Tales), Scott moves away from the smug-douche mugging of the American Pie films. He plays his thug as a gentle giant and a lovable oaf.
Balancing violence with humor and sweetness would be enough of a coup, but Dowse goes further. Goon is a flurrying riposte to Canada’s toothless tradition of hockey films with titles like Breakaway and Score: A Hockey Musical. It’s the rare hockey movie to approach violence head-on, without hectoring or hand-wringing, as an essential element of the sport, not some inhumane sideshow. Where George Roy Hill’s Slap Shot, the former reigning champ of the narrow hockey-film canon, descends into anticlimactic late-game zaniness, Goon fully commits to its theme of violence for violence’s sake. It’s Paper Lion by way of Sam Peckinpah.