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'Goon' Shoots and Scores
Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies

Boy, was I not looking forward to "Goon"! The Great White North's favorite gladiatorial sport, Jason-masked hosers wielding hockey sticks, slo-mo arcs of ketchup ... not to mention Stifler (Seann William Scott) on steroids? But it turns out this little movie's a charmer, perfectly calibrated as a sweet, slow-cooking sports comedy (and love story), chock-full of colorful characters who score, on and off the ice, by consistently breaking out of cookie-cutter caricature. (Exception that proves the rule: the fall-down-funny ditz who screeches a pregame "O Canada" so awful the rinkside commentator wonders if it might be "borderline treasonous.")

"Goon" is 100 percent Canuck, eh? That authenticity comes courtesy of "FUBAR" director Michael Dowse, hailing from Ontario, and Montreal-born Jay Baruchel ("Knocked Up"), who co-adapted (with Evan "Superbad" Goldberg) Doug Smith's memoir about the ribald adventures of a minor-league hockey player. Baruchel also acts out as Ryan, the titular goon's manic, pottymouthed best bud.

Search: More on Seann William Scott

Since Dowse and Baruchel are specialists in arrested development comedy, it's no surprise that the movie is awash in raunchy humor and gross talk. Think of this as the white (more like Technicolor) noise of locker-room camaraderie and rink throwdowns. The near-naked brace of "Chernobyls" -- Russian players  who enthusiastically molest their goalie's helmet, while referencing the dude's mom in crude detail -- would surely be at home in the spectacularly uncouth boys club so fondly recalled from 1977's "Slap Shot."

Between belly laughs, there's hockey action, both brutal and slapstick. Pucks smash into faces and thugs beat on each other till teeth shatter and blood sprays; when a player's ankle folds sideways under him, his screams are awful, and for real. So if you prefer your punches pulled and your sports movies Kinkade-ized, you will not love "Goon." Your loss, since this hockey flick's a winner, all about growing up, dreaming not so much big as clear-eyed, within the arena of one's limitations.

Playing a loser too dimwitted even to succeed as a Boston bouncer, Seann William Scott seems to have doubled in size -- and emotional depth. No trouble believing his Doug Glatt could head-butt a hockey ruffian so hard his helmet cracks open. The hapless player's just called a jeering spectator a f-----, and our hero's outraged: "Hey, my brother's gay!" It's one of the first hints that Scott's strangely self-contained doofus might be more holy fool than thug.

Though he can barely stand up on ice, let alone skate, Doug's recruited to play enforcer for the down-and-out Halifax Highlanders. The team's a shambles, lacking any morale or self-respect. For pep talk, the disheveled captain maunders on about losing his wife and kid to divorce; his bored mates roll their eyes or peruse porn mags. Onetime headliner Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin) checks out via drugs and sex after being brutally concussed by a legendary enforcer. (Rolled around in delicious Montreal French, LaFlamme comes off the tongue as "LaPhlegm.")

Scott's slow-cogitating hero surveys his often puzzling world with a grave, nonjudgmental gaze that inspires affectionate laughter. The actor brings the funny, but also rock-ribbed dignity, to this bullet-headed hooligan: Here's a lost soul who's found his Grail, locked on to work he's good at, a role he can grasp. Doug follows his star as though it mattered, enthusiastically decking anyone who threatens his team members. Fans declare he's been "touched by the fist of God"; not an iota of mean ever mars the purity of his performance.

Adrift one night in a bar, Doug meets and matches drinks with a hockey melee-loving fan (absolutely adorable Alison Pill, recalling Amy Adams in "The Fighter"). The single-minded sweetness of Doug's regard, that typically grave taking-in of Eva's truest nature, is no joke; the self-described "slut" and "bad girlfriend" can't help but fall in love, plighting her hilariously profane troth: "You make me want to stop sleeping with a bunch of guys." Poignancy trumps guffaws, when Eva's goon replies, "That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."

"Goon" doesn't disappoint when it comes to blood and yuks, but Dowse and Baruchel are surprisingly deft at getting serious. One late-night diner dialogue between two star enforcers -- Glatt rising, Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber) on the wane -- stands out, deep-dish acting worthy of "Warrior" or "The Fighter." Sporting a cross between a handlebar and a Fu Manchu 'stache, Schreiber is simply magnificent in his aging machismo, a gunfighter jonesing for one last face-off. And Scott pays homage to Schreiber's acting weight the best way he can, addressing the older actor with hushed courtesy and formality.

Good for lowdown fun, this subversive comedy invites us in to celebrate its idiosyncratic bunch of sweet-natured goons. Handicapped they may be, but not one could be said to lack game.

Kat Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool."). She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kat's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.

For more movie news, follow MSN Movies on Facebook and Twitter.

Boy, was I not looking forward to "Goon"! The Great White North's favorite gladiatorial sport, Jason-masked hosers wielding hockey sticks, slo-mo arcs of ketchup ... not to mention Stifler (Seann William Scott) on steroids? But it turns out this little movie's a charmer, perfectly calibrated as a sweet, slow-cooking sports comedy (and love story), chock-full of colorful characters who score, on and off the ice, by consistently breaking out of cookie-cutter caricature. (Exception that proves the rule: the fall-down-funny ditz who screeches a pregame "O Canada" so awful the rinkside commentator wonders if it might be "borderline treasonous.")

"Goon" is 100 percent Canuck, eh? That authenticity comes courtesy of "FUBAR" director Michael Dowse, hailing from Ontario, and Montreal-born Jay Baruchel ("Knocked Up"), who co-adapted (with Evan "Superbad" Goldberg) Doug Smith's memoir about the ribald adventures of a minor-league hockey player. Baruchel also acts out as Ryan, the titular goon's manic, pottymouthed best bud.

Search: More on Seann William Scott

Since Dowse and Baruchel are specialists in arrested development comedy, it's no surprise that the movie is awash in raunchy humor and gross talk. Think of this as the white (more like Technicolor) noise of locker-room camaraderie and rink throwdowns. The near-naked brace of "Chernobyls" -- Russian players  who enthusiastically molest their goalie's helmet, while referencing the dude's mom in crude detail -- would surely be at home in the spectacularly uncouth boys club so fondly recalled from 1977's "Slap Shot."

Between belly laughs, there's hockey action, both brutal and slapstick. Pucks smash into faces and thugs beat on each other till teeth shatter and blood sprays; when a player's ankle folds sideways under him, his screams are awful, and for real. So if you prefer your punches pulled and your sports movies Kinkade-ized, you will not love "Goon." Your loss, since this hockey flick's a winner, all about growing up, dreaming not so much big as clear-eyed, within the arena of one's limitations.

Playing a loser too dimwitted even to succeed as a Boston bouncer, Seann William Scott seems to have doubled in size -- and emotional depth. No trouble believing his Doug Glatt could head-butt a hockey ruffian so hard his helmet cracks open. The hapless player's just called a jeering spectator a f-----, and our hero's outraged: "Hey, my brother's gay!" It's one of the first hints that Scott's strangely self-contained doofus might be more holy fool than thug.

Though he can barely stand up on ice, let alone skate, Doug's recruited to play enforcer for the down-and-out Halifax Highlanders. The team's a shambles, lacking any morale or self-respect. For pep talk, the disheveled captain maunders on about losing his wife and kid to divorce; his bored mates roll their eyes or peruse porn mags. Onetime headliner Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin) checks out via drugs and sex after being brutally concussed by a legendary enforcer. (Rolled around in delicious Montreal French, LaFlamme comes off the tongue as "LaPhlegm.")

Scott's slow-cogitating hero surveys his often puzzling world with a grave, nonjudgmental gaze that inspires affectionate laughter. The actor brings the funny, but also rock-ribbed dignity, to this bullet-headed hooligan: Here's a lost soul who's found his Grail, locked on to work he's good at, a role he can grasp. Doug follows his star as though it mattered, enthusiastically decking anyone who threatens his team members. Fans declare he's been "touched by the fist of God"; not an iota of mean ever mars the purity of his performance.

Adrift one night in a bar, Doug meets and matches drinks with a hockey melee-loving fan (absolutely adorable Alison Pill, recalling Amy Adams in "The Fighter"). The single-minded sweetness of Doug's regard, that typically grave taking-in of Eva's truest nature, is no joke; the self-described "slut" and "bad girlfriend" can't help but fall in love, plighting her hilariously profane troth: "You make me want to stop sleeping with a bunch of guys." Poignancy trumps guffaws, when Eva's goon replies, "That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."

"Goon" doesn't disappoint when it comes to blood and yuks, but Dowse and Baruchel are surprisingly deft at getting serious. One late-night diner dialogue between two star enforcers -- Glatt rising, Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber) on the wane -- stands out, deep-dish acting worthy of "Warrior" or "The Fighter." Sporting a cross between a handlebar and a Fu Manchu 'stache, Schreiber is simply magnificent in his aging machismo, a gunfighter jonesing for one last face-off. And Scott pays homage to Schreiber's acting weight the best way he can, addressing the older actor with hushed courtesy and formality.

Good for lowdown fun, this subversive comedy invites us in to celebrate its idiosyncratic bunch of sweet-natured goons. Handicapped they may be, but not one could be said to lack game.

Kat Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool."). She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kat's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.

For more movie news, follow MSN Movies on Facebook and Twitter.

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