Even the most casual hockey fan knows that it's not a game until there's blood on the ice. And it's the unofficial job of the team's "enforcer," also known as a "goon," to make that happen. Fighting is a tradition in hockey (at least the North American version of it) and it's one of the reasons the sport provides a more entertaining fan experience than, oh, say, all the other sports that exist. And one of those fighters wrote a book. Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey Into Minor League Hockey, by Doug Smith (with Adam Frattasio) chronicled Smith's decade-long career in hockey as an enforcer and this film is a rough adaptation from actor/screenwriter Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg (Superbad).
This version takes Smith's story and turns him into Seann William Scott as Doug "The Thug" Glatt, a sweet-natured Jewish bouncer with iron fists and the intellectual ability of Lennie from Of Mice and Men. While attending a local hockey game, Doug beats up one of the team in defense of his gay brother when the player uses an anti-gay slur and, soon enough, is hired for his punching skill even though he can barely skate. Reviled by the showboating player he's been assigned to keep watch over on the ice and mocked by the other players for his lack of actual hockey ability, Doug takes it all in stride and never wavers in his loyalty to the team. His reward is nonstop blows to the skull and the affections of a hockey groupie, Eva (Allison Pill, a woman whose bloodlust walks hand in hand with her actual lust), who's cheating on her boyfriend.
The story isn't going to punch you in the face much. It's the most basic of sports "hero" trajectories. In fact, it mostly ignores the traditional responsibility to that kind of momentum in favor of a series of comedic incidents, all of which lead up to Doug's big fight with the league's most legendarily violent goon, Rhea (Liev Schrieber). But those incidents are smart, funny, raunchy and surprising, often knocking the legs out from under most sports movies' determination-and-heart = tough-guy-realness delivery systems. When Eva appears to Doug in the street, crying, he says, "Why are you crying? Did you just watch Rudy?" It's like that.
Another plus: Scott's comic ability to make Doug the most innocent and puppy-like inflictor of concussions the movies have seen in a while. In fact, if he weren't in a hockey uniform, he seems like the kind of guy who'd possibly require a state-sponsored chaperone to just explain life to him every day, another reason why this can only be a rough approximation of the real Doug Smith's experience. The man went on to be a Bruins coach and then a police officer, after all.
In the end, it's the less high-scoring offspring of the 1977 classic Slap Shot, but to even mention it in that movie's company is praise enough.