Bloody ice-rink fights, and little else.
The fact that a movie as harsh and despicable as "Goon" can be promoted as a comedy says terrible things about the state of the American film industry.
There's a workable concept here: A meek but tough bar bouncer finds purpose as a minor-league hockey team's human battering ram. But it feels incorrect to describe this repulsive film as humor, especially since the deaths last year of NHL tough guys Rick Rypien, Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard. If hockey brutality was ever a barrel of laughs, it is not now. If ever a film deserved to be thrown in the penalty box, this is the one.
Seann William Scott plays Doug Glatt, a nice, muscled-up lunkhead whose Jewish parents (Eugene Levy and Ellen David) simply cannot fathom how he surfaced from their gene pool. They treat him as an embarrassment while fawning over his doctor brother. Forlorn Doug finds his calling in life at a semipro hockey game. When the visiting team's enforcer charges into the stands, provoked by Doug's taunting pal (Jay Baruchel, who co-wrote), the bouncer's concrete skull and thundering fists catch the hometown coach's eye. He's signed up as the team's designated brawler and renamed "Doug the Thug."
There are some engaging scenes at the outset as Doug wobbles onto the ice on his first pair of skates -- figure skates. His flirtation with a hockey groupie (Alison Pill) looks as if it might have a wistful Rocky and Adrian sweetness. His teammates, including a pair of jabbering magpie Russians, the boozy, divorced captain and bombastic, black-hearted coach, promise to develop into a colorful squad of background players. None of it pans out. The romance is forced, the girl shrivels into a misogynist fantasy, the teammates are one-note numbskulls, and the film strains to wring ever-diminishing chuckles from Doug's punishing on-ice clashes.
Most of the film's technical effects are squirmy miscalculations. The photography is deliberately dingy, evoking the squalid atmosphere of small-town sports locker rooms. This movie looks like athlete's foot smells. The punch-ups are intended to play like hilarious misadventures, yet director Michael Dowse films them as if he were making the sequel to "Raging Bull," complete with slo-mo blood and broken teeth splattering to Puccini's "Turandot."
The redeeming performance comes from Liev Schreiber as the league's battle-scarred senior goon Ross Rhea. Rocking the greasiest mullet in NHL history and a 1970s mustache that should have the Maple Leafs' Mike Brown suing for trademark infringement, he brings a soulful solidity to the role. Schreiber plays the aging battler like a Wild West gunslinger who's aware his time is winding down. In a well-judged coffee-shop scene he tells ever-innocent Doug that the fans want just one thing from enforcers -- blood.
The makers of this film seem to hold movie audiences in similar contempt. As the film lumbers on, Doug's capacity for absorbing punishment begins to resemble clinical masochism. The movie never grasps the distinction between outrageous slob comedy and vulgar junk. "Slap Shot" it's not.