Hockey is coin of the Can-film realm. Canadians love the sport and so, it is reasoned, we will dutifully line up for movies set in that milieu.
But with the exception of the excellent Maurice Richard biopic The Rocket, Canadian hockey films tend to go horribly wrong, grafting ghastly gimmicks and culture clashes onto the sport. A chimp plays hockey in MVP: Most Valuable Primate. A gay hockey player struggles with adopting a gay kid in Breakfast With Scot. A Sikh hockey team faces challenges in last year's cross-cultural comedy Breakaway. Most mortifying of all, of course, is that appalling, embarrassing nadir of Can-film high concept, Score: A Hockey Musical.
Compared to the other films, Michael Dowse's Goon comes off as a classic of the sports genre. But take away the novelty of a Canadian hockey comedy that's actually watchable and what you have is a bloody, raucous, yet endearingly goofy little movie, the closest Canadian cinema has ever come to the acknowledged apex of the subgenre: Slap Shot.
Scripted by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, Goon offers up an unlikely hero in the person of Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott, best known as the priapic nitwit Stifler in American Pie). Coming as he does from an intellectual Jewish family, it is Doug and not his smarter gay brother who qualifies as the black sheep. He may be sweet-tempered and innocent, but Doug is just not that bright.
The professional bouncer is only a hockey spectator until he rises to the defence of his best friend Pat (Baruchel), a loudmouthed hockey fanatic, at a game. Doug knocks a marauding enforcer unconscious with one punch, gaining the attention of a minor-league team. They need a tough guy to protect their underperforming star player Xavier Laflamme (Marc-André Grondin), a once-promising NHL player rendered gun-shy after receiving a cheap shot from the notorious hockey enforcer Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber).
Bristling and hostile, Laflamme proves to be a challenging assignment. But Doug starts to blossom in the reviled role of goon, first finding purpose and then love with Eva (Alison Pill), a beautiful young fan who reveals a darker aspect beneath her peaches-and-cream faßade when she cops to getting turned on by hockey violence.
But our hero carries on, even in the face of his disapproving dad (Eugene Levy), until he is obliged to face his ultimate challenge in the form of Rhea, who faces the minor-league close of his career eager to make one last impression, preferably on the face of Doug Glatt.
Dowse gets the most out of his supporting cast -- especially Baruchel as the manic Pat and Kim Coates (Sons of Anarchy) as venomous coach Ronnie Hortense. (Even former Jets play-by-play guy Curt Keilback gets some laughs.)
To some extent, it is actually Scott who lets the team down. A movie with such excessive content requires carefully modulated performances. Schreiber gets it: He makes Ross Rhea a credible, fearsome brute without much in the way of villainous embellishment.
Scott plays it a little too sweet, a bruised-knuckles naif who invokes ET when trying to break through to Laflamme.
A hockey goon is the one member of the hockey team who knows he isn't there to be liked. Scott's eagerness to be loved doesn't ruin the movie, but does earn him an offside penalty.
Selected excerpts from reviews of Goon.
Hockey is a violent game, but usually in movies the violence is the garnish rather than the meal itself.
-- Philip French, Observer (UK)
Really ... it's just Dodgeball with a lobotomy.
-- Elliot Noble, Sky Movies
It's a surprisingly watchable, big-hearted yet unsentimental film...
-- Peter Bradshaw, Guardian (UK)
Rough, rude and raucous.
-- Rosie Fletcher, Total Film
I'm not sure that this rough and ready comedy would seem so funny were it not for Scott's charming performance as the man with dynamite in his fists and fudge in his heart.
-- Derek Malcolm, This Is London
Goon isn't a life-changer, but it is a pleasant little surprise.
-- David Aldridge, Radio Times
At the end the audience disperses in a daze, saying "Dude, where's my brain?" but also feeling a warmish glow around the heart.
-- Nigel Andrews, Financial Times
It's Scott who gives the movie its heart, delivering a performance of quiet strength and unexpected subtlety -- when he's not cracking skulls.
-- Tom Huddleston, Time Out London
Hilariously foul. Best hockey comedy since Slap Shot.
-- Chris Bumbray, Joblo's Movie Emporium
-- Compiled by Shane Minkin
TO whistles Goon posters for gross misconduct
TORONTO -- Alliance Films says the City of Toronto has removed 38 Goon posters ahead of the hockey movie's release Friday.
A spokeswoman for Alliance says the outdoor advertisements feature Goon star Jay Baruchel "gesturing in a way that the city believes is inappropriate."
The poster in question reportedly featured Baruchel making a sexually suggestive sign with his tongue and fingers.
Alliance Films says the posters have been up for two weeks.
They were removed Wednesday -- the same day as a red-carpet première in the city for the film about a bouncer who brawls his way onto a local hockey team.
The Winnipeg-shot film co-stars X-Men heartthrob Liev Schreiber.
In a statement issued by Alliance, Goon director Mike Dowse said: "I question whether this has to do with Jay's tongue or his ability to burn Maple Leafs' jerseys, neither of which are offensive in any way."
However, on the red carpet, Schreiber told the Toronto Star he could see why the posters were taken down.
"Having two small children myself, I can appreciate somebody being offended or not wanting that out there on the streets," he told the newspaper.
A spokesman for the City of Toronto did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the removal of the posters.
-- The Canadian Press
Starring Seann William Scott, Liev Schreiber and Alison Pill
Kildonan Place, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne
3 1/2 out of five stars