11 January 2012

GOON- Review

You'll have to forgive Goon's unfortunately awful marketing campaign, if you set any stock by my reviews, because it's a hell of a lot better than it looks. The film isn't due a US release until March, and this, along with the peculiarity-cred that comes with a Magnet production, is one of the indicators that the film isn't the haltingly unfunny disaster that might be suggested by sub-Dreamworks straplines like "Dumb As Puck." And truthfully, this hyper-violent but essentially sweet Canadian curiosity has more in common with Super than with Superbad.

It's a hockey movie, or, more aptly, a movie about competitive fighting, on ice. Nickel-headed doorman Doug Glatt is a kind-spirited lug, who violently defends his friend from an irate hockey player at a local league match. The team manager scouts out Doug for his enviable talents as a bruiser, and signs him up to play as a semi-pro enforcer, or goon- basically, a tough guy who doesn't play hockey so much as prevent his opposite number from damaging his team's properly talented players. He is prodigiously successful in this field, but his sweet nature is often mistaken for thuggery.

Goon relates back to Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story in some ways, but while Dodgeball trades on all the absurdity of its central sport, Goon is at least as good a sports movie as it is a comedy. It's straightforwardly unorthodox, playing up the violence of ice hockey without giving any quarter to explaining the rules of the game. It's Canadian in flavour, and seems, to some extent, to have been made with Canadians in mind. There's something honest and enjoyable about that, and the crossover appeal comes from both its humour, and the surprisingly strong central performance.

To give credit where it's due, Seann William Scott is really Goon's trump card. Best known for the role of Stifler in American Pie, a role he'll reprise in a couple of months' time, Scott's performance here is basically as the straight man, to the surrounding film's good-natured ridiculousness. It's a role that he pulls off better than any of his previous work might have led you to expect, and as much as the film is a very tongue-in-cheek sports movie, it works better than many sports movies, just for the fact that you root for Doug. Crucially, there comes a point where you actually care about whether or not he gets hurt, rather than just wanting to see him continue to whack seven bells out of people.

As is the wont of sports movies, Doug's rise to fame coincides with the decline of the sport's most infamous goon, Ross Rhea, played by Liev Schreiber. It feels like we've been watching Schreiber sit uncomfortably in a number of different roles, while still doing a good job. For example, if you read Batman: The Long Halloween, the graphic novel that inspired parts of The Dark Knight, the book's image of Harvey Dent might as well be based on him. But that role was played by Aaron Eckhart, and Schreiber instead appeared in the execrable X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The role of Rhea feels like a good fit for him, and he clearly enjoys himself just as much as everyone else, as Goon's answer to the insurmountable monster-men that populate Rocky sequels.

I was less enamored of the character played by Jay Baruchel, who also co-wrote the movie with Seth Rogen's writing partner, Evan Goldberg. Baruchel's fingerprints are all over the film, even though his on-screen presence as Doug's buddy is a minor part. I'm no stickler for strong language, especially in a film as over-the-top violent as this one, but as I've said before, excessive swearing can actually wreck jokes by breaking up delivery and comic timing, and the film's script suffers for a few too many fucks. It's not really sanitised in any respect, with the amount of bloody hockey violence that goes on all the way through, but it is a lot more balanced in that aspect.

Goon is a sweetly violent sports comedy that's so easy to like, it's almost like the ad campaign was an exercise in making the job of promoting it a little harder. It's also pleasingly separate from the pacing of Judd Apatow comedies, and edited within an inch of its life. There are no baggy or unnecessary scenes to slow down the rapidfire salvo of comedy and violence. The MVP is clearly Seann William Scott, who builds and maintains chemistry with pretty much every actor who shares the screen with him. Moreover, the film is delightfully Canadian, with buckets of crossover appeal and a general oddball accessibility that's absent in some more mean-spirited comedies.

Goon is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen Goon, why not share your comments below? Shit, I'd almost forgotten American Reunion was coming...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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