Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is a polite Jewish boy from fictional Orangetown, Massachusetts, whose one God-given talent is having a skull made of granite and, on command, a rock-’em-sock-’em left-right combination.
Doug is a bouncer, but his middle-class parents (Eugene Levy and Ellen David), in denial that their son is the mental equal of Lennie from Of Mice and Men, want him to quit the bar job and find some more genteel work. Doug, however, finds his true calling at an Orangetown Assassins hockey game, when an opposing team’s enforcer, provoked by a pelt of concessions, barges into the stands looking to bust heads, only to get flattened by Doug.
Soon recruited as a “goon” enforcer by the Assassins, Doug—now nicknamed “The Thug”—climbs the minor-league ranks to the Halifax Highlanders, who need someone to stick up for sweet-skating prodigy Xavier Laflamme (Marc-André Grondin), skittish on the ice since a concussive hit from Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), the long-reigning king of goons, now winding down his career.
The plotting that follows is as standard-issue as the jockstrap is to sports movies, including a complicated courtship, gently handled, with hockey groupie Eva (Alison Pill) and a buildup to the inevitable drop-the-gloves showdown with Rhea. But depicting the vocationally debauched world of second-tier hockey, Goon is not only rowdy, but also humane—it’s an indicator that Goon is trying something a little different when Doug, whose gay brother is the only blood relation who attempts to understand him, has his first berserker fit in the public eye when set off by a homophobic slur.
Scott, a comic who never really got his due respect (the lamentable American Wedding was nearly redeemed by his dance-off performance), more recently sidetracked by personal problems, plays a sweet, dumb brute without signaling his own intelligence—the true test when playing a dullard. He’s surrounded with an able supporting cast: Jay Baruchel, who also co-wrote, plays Doug’s hometown buddy, taking Tourette’s-like profanity so far, he seems to be consciously elevating the “loudmouthed best friend” cliché into self-aware, mentally defective caricature. The Highlanders lineup includes Jonathan Cherry as the tweaked goaltender (“Two rules: Stay away from my Percocets, and do you have any Percocets?”), George Tchortov and Karl Graboshas as a couple of grab-assy Russians, and Richard Clarkin as the team captain who, in a post-divorce tailspin, spells out the film’s theme of team as a substitute for family. This is, in its unprepossessing way, rather more touching than the hollow chest-thumping family therapy melodrama of last year’s blood-sport film, Warrior.
Since Goon was filmed, a string of NHL scrappers have died in various circumstances. When considering the moral implications of such gladiatorial violence, the film comes out squarely in favor, asking what’s crueler: enjoying the spectacle of blood on ice or taking away a livelihood from those who can’t do anything else?