Great sequels tend to enrich or build upon the appeal of their predecessors. Lousy sequels misplace that appeal or obscure it by making everything way bigger. Somewhere in the middle lies a movie like Goon: Last Of The Enforcers. Co-writer, co-star, and now director Jay Baruchel has reassembled most of the cast of his 2011 sleeper for a second helping of everything people liked about it: the vulgar locker-room camaraderie, the amusingly brutal fisticuffs, and Seann William Scott’s good-natured numbskull routine. If the comic punches don’t land with quite the same frequency, it’s because Baruchel hasn’t altered their trajectory much. He’s played it safe and stuck to the playbook, inevitably resulting in a film that’s a lot like the last one, just not quite as funny or endearing. If you loved Goon, you’re gonna kind of like Goon: Last Of The Enforcers.
The original was an unexpected delight: a sports comedy that revived the profane, violent hilarity of ’70s forebearers like Slap Shot and The Longest Yard, but with an accompanying warmth supplied by its sweet lug of a main character. Baruchel loosely adapted the life and career of a real minor-league hockey enforcer, but it was a never-better, never-funnier Scott who breathed dim-witted comic life into Doug “The Thug” Glatt, a Jewish Massachusetts bartender who finds his true calling meting out beatdowns in the Great White North. Unfailingly polite, even when knocking teeth from jaws, Doug remains an irresistible character—a big softie with a hard head, about as loyal (and smart) as a golden retriever. But Last Of The Enforcers can’t think of much new to do with him, save for reboot his sports-movie arc; he’s now a comeback kid instead of an underdog.
Savagely clobbered on the ice mere minutes after being named captain of the Halifax Highlanders (one of several plot developments that makes more dramatic than logical sense), Doug hangs up his skates and pads, retiring from hockey to sell insurance out of a basement and gearing up for impending fatherhood. (Returning as now-pregnant love interest Eva, Alison Pill suddenly finds herself playing a woman disapproving of, instead of aroused by, her beau’s punishing livelihood—though the movie, to be fair, lets her acknowledge that change of heart in dialogue.) Before long, though, the siren call of kicking ass to protect his surrogate family draws Doug back to the sport; he begins training in secret with his old rival, veteran enforcer Ross “The Boss” Rhea (a magnificently grizzled Liev Schreiber). And before long, The Thug is back with his Highlanders, albeit alongside the same merciless hotshot (Wyatt Russell, a former hockey player in real life) who temporarily ended his career.
As in the first Goon, there’s a deep appreciation here for both the mechanics and the culture of hockey. Baruchel, a die-hard fan, revels in the visceral velocity of the game, as well as the oddball personalities of the players (many, like a pair of Eastern European prankster brothers, featured in the last movie). And there’s some genuine pathos in his acknowledgment of how the sport uses and abuses players like Doug and Ross, who at one point find themselves duking it out in a bottom-rung sideshow called “Bruised And Battered,” which boasts of taking the hockey out of hockey, leaving behind only a collection of retired, cash-strapped enforcers willing to whale on each other for a quick paycheck. (Schreiber is a pro at this kind of humiliating spectacle, having already taken a different real-life slugger through the washed-up wringer in this year’s Chuck.)
But that invented amateur thunderdome is about the only original idea Last Of The Enforcers devises. Otherwise, the film follows a path pretty similar to the one Goon laid out, offering superficial variations en route to another blood-on-the-ice showdown. The overwhelming sense of familiarity wouldn’t be a big deal if this inoffensive but inessential sequel could match its inspiration in laughs, charm, insult, or injury. But like Doug himself, it just doesn’t hit as hard. Still, it’s nice to see Scott back in the jersey and the role of his lifetime. He locates bliss in ignorance, and a gentle soul under a mound of swollen muscle.