If 2012 has a more violent film tucked away on its release schedules, then expect a very bloody year of cinema ahead. Goon, starring Seann William Scott, has the appearance of being a raucous, foul-mouthed comedy, and to a degree, that’s what it is.
What it also is, though, is the ultra-violent story of Doug Glatt, aka Doug The Thug, and his ascendance in the world of professional ice hockey, fired by his unmatched ability to punch seven shades out of the nearest player to him. Actually, scrub the unmatched: there’s one other face on the ice hockey circuit that practices such relentless, wince-inducing beatings, and that’s Liev Schreiber’s Ross Rhea, a man in his last season as a pro. The violent rookie and the violent pro? You can see the showdown coming, and it’s no lesser for it.
What anchors the film is one of Scott William Scott’s most likeable performances. Doug is a warm dimwit, looking for a purpose in life, and attempting to please and placate a family who aren’t all that impressed with how his life is going. In a fine cameo, Eugene Levy pops up as his father (they’ll both be back on screen together in American Pie: The Reunion later this year), and naturally, steals every scene he’s allowed near.
However, after an opening that plays out firmly along with expectations, generating a few chuckles as it goes, the fighting really begins. Quite literally. And for a film that runs for about an hour and a half, a large proportion of it is devoted to blood, teeth falling out, people barging into each other, and another few buckets of blood.
It’s like Fight Club on ice at times, with every slug, every drop of blood and every beating heavily focused on. If you manage to sit through the whole movie without wincing once, you’re in the minority, I’d wager.
What this adds up to is a film that, inevitably, is tonally all over the place. The comedy and violence aren’t natural bedfellows at all, and the two elements simply don’t gel. A further price is paid with the film’s attempts at further exposition, as Doug’s fledgling romance feels undercooked. Likewise, the story of Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), the once-star player who has fallen through the ranks, is engaging, but there’s little desire to develop it beyond rough sketches.
Where Goon works, as it often does, is in its occasionally witty writing (any film that tips its hat to Rudy is a friend of ours), and the sheer commitment of director Michael Dowse (Take Me Home Tonight) to his ice hockey sequences. It feels as though Oliver Stone’s approach to American Football in Any Given Sunday has been bottled and unleashed, swapping an eyeball for a tooth, but otherwise viscerally taking you fully into the action.
Much like the ice at one of the end of the film’s games, Goon is a messy film. Seann William Scott is crucial in anchoring it, and in offering some consistency through its wildly different choices. And you’d be hard push to say that it outstays its welcome.
The frustration here, though, is that a tighter, more rigorously worked script (Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel do a good job on scribing duties, but there’s still a sense of a slightly better film in their work) may have brought the disparate elements just a little closer together, and given an end result that’s greater than what we ultimately get. Goon is still funny, and it’s still worth checking out, although it doesn’t feel that its natural home is on the big screen.
If you do check it out at your local fleapit, though, you’re getting a winning performance of its lead, a good few laughs, and a running time that doesn’t outstay its welcome. Do not, though, see it on a full stomach.