Even if you don’t mind the fighting in professional hockey, you’ll still feel affronted by Goon, a film whose violence is glorified to the point of repulsiveness. Blood splatters and spews. Teeth fall out in slow motion, accompanied by triumphant classical music. A newly minted hockey player is sent off by a friend with the reassurance, “You’re going to fuck somebody up real good, kiddo.” It’s a Three Stooges gag minus the boings and human Teflon. It’s not how real hockey rolls.
And yet: It’s also rather funny. Written by Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express) and Jay Baruchel (who also co-stars) and based on an autobiography, Goon tells the story of Doug “the Thug” Glatt (Seann William Scott), a bouncer who’s an embarrassment to his Jewish, doctor-factory family. When he knocks out a hockey player who angrily climbs into the stands during a game, he earns the attention of the coach, who invites him to join his team even though Doug can’t skate. He’s going to be the enforcer, the guy who protects his teammates when the opposition gets rough. And he does it so well he’s soon called up to a minor-league squad in Halifax, where he must spark a former tough guy’s confidence and bolster the sorry, in-fighting team.
Even if it wasn’t quite Doug’s dream all along, he’s still pretty happy with his new career, mainly because he believes he’s “too stupid” to do anything else. And that’s another of Goon’s misfires: Doug starts off sweet—even despite his punching power and all-too-willingness to show it off—but is sporadically and unbelievably transformed into a dimwit. Still, Scott does his deadpan best with the character, who’s polite on and off the ice. (“I’m sorry?” and “Yes, please” are frequent refrains; he’s even friendly to the players he knocks around.) Doug is a loveable idiot, but not of the manic variety Scott is normally stuck playing.
Baruchel doesn’t come off as well as Doug’s friend Ryan, a juvenile hockey-show host. Ryan is all “fuck”s and sexual references to a tiring and rarely funny degree; why the actor would write such a repellent character for himself is as curious as Doug’s sudden bouts of imbecility. Liev Schreiber is oily as about-to-retire enforcer Rex Rhea, sporting a bizarre handlebar mustache that no one outside of an artisan pickle shop in the Pacific Northwest would wear. And Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’s Alison Pill plays Eva, Doug’s hard-drinking, hockey-obsessed love interest. “Do you fart cinnamon?” Ryan asks when he meets her. Lovely.
Most of Goon’s humor comes from the bit characters, like Doug’s meathead teammates (“Two things,” one of them tells Doug. “Stay away from my Percocets, and do you have any Percocets?”) and the announcer (“That was borderline treasonous!” he says after a terrible rendition of the Canadian national anthem).
What matters, really, is the violence—the film’s called Goon, after all. And while it would have been foolish to wholly sanitize the physicality, Goon’s untethered gratuitousness ultimately sinks what could have been a relatively entertaining hockey movie—or at least one better than The Mighty Ducks.