January 20, 2018

Posted March 30, 2012 by D. K. Holm

Intimidators are an unsanctioned but intractable part of hockey, as the “code red” policy in A Few Good Men is to the Marines. The league attempts to quell the violence, but a major part of the game’s attraction is the irrational explosions of fighting between contestants, which have their own official and unofficial protocols.

Goon is a huge hit in Canada, where it is already on Blu-Ray, and tells of a unusually dimwitted Jewish kid from Orangetown, Massachusetts, who is his family’s black sheep. While the other kids are becoming doctors, Doug Glatt (American Pie‘s Seann William Scott) is a bouncer in a bar, a hockey fan, and a guy whose yarmulke flies off embarrassingly after temple.

It turns out that Doug has a head so hard he can crack hockey helmets with it, and fists so sharp they can puncture forehead veins, turning them into leaky hoses. This qualifies him as an “assassin,” i.e., a player with poor offensive skills but who can be tasked with taking out irritating opponents. Getting a whiff of Doug’s skills, Rollie Hortense (TV’s Nicholas Campbell of Da Vinci’s Inquest), the manager of Glatt’s home town’s minor league hockey team, auditions Doug. From there, Hortense recommends him to his brother Ronnie (an excellent Kim Coates, of TV’s Sons of Anarchy), the manager of the Halifax Highlanders, a farm club team with a former superstar, Xavier Laflamme (Marc-André Grondin), now on the skids since receiving a concussion from another assassin, a “one man wrecking crew” called Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber, physically convincing, but struggling with a Canadian accent). Touched by the “fist of God,” Glatt doesn’t seem to feel pain the way you or I do. At one point he blocks a goal with his teeth. Soon the media is slavering for a confrontation between Doug “The Thug,” and Ross “The Boss,” whose last season it is.

Along the way, Glatt must deal with several sub themes. He needs to win the approval of his parents (with TV’s Eugene Levy as the dad), win the love of a down home Halifax girl whom he needs to more or less steal away from her current abusive boyfriend, and inspire the respect of Laflamme, to whom he has an unrequited animal loyalty, like Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. In the time honored tradition of sports movies, Doug and Rhea finally face off, a bout of Alien versus Predator proportions when Halifax meets Rhea’s St. Johns’s Shamrocks in the playoffs.

Similarly to this “final confrontation” cliché, Goonuses stereotypes, of Jewish life and of Canadian practices (beer, politeness) as a shorthand to squeeze in a lot of narrative in an otherwise event free story. Therefore it comes as something of a surprise that the film is based on the life of Doug “The Hammer” Smith, now a cop and fight coach in Massachusetts, and adapted from Smith’s book, though it’s hard to believe that the volume is as “movie” like as the movie made from it. Meanwhile, Goon also caters to certain fantasies, such as the Rocky-style dummy getting the girl, or the ordinary yet talented person being plucked from obscurity to enjoy fame, as inRock StarGoon isn’t as interestingly eccentric as the Paul Newman film Slapshot –for one thing, it doesn’t have a catchy tune – but it does show that Canadian cinema can be as efficient and by-the-numbers in its commercial cinema as its southern neighbors.