Goon makes its intentions clear pretty quickly.  Sure, that opening shot, with Liev Schreiber’s fearsome hockey enforcer Ross Rhea causing a fight on the ice that results in a (lovingly photographed) slow-motion blood-and-teeth spray, cues you in to how violent things are going to get (and brother, this scene is but the tip of the iceberg), but the tone cements itself a few minutes later, when we see hero Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott, never better) receive his introduction to the world of hockey enforcing.

Glatt is at a minor league exhibition with his best friend Pat (co-writer Jay Baruchel, doing an increasingly tiresome Masshole shtick), and the away team’s thug has been sent into the penalty box.  Pat eggs on Said Thug, who then calls Pat an extremely derogatory name (hint: it’s often wielded against homosexuals), and then Doug responds by destroying the thug’s head.  It’s a succinct entry into a movie that wants to – and succeeds, for the most part – combine Superbad‘s raunch with Slap Shot‘s vicious sports action.  You’ve got Raging Bull-esque gouts of blood; you’ve got graphic toilet humor (Pat refers to the player’s spurting mug as a “face period”); and, most importantly, you’ve got the sweetness that made Superbad so engaging.  Doug is an effortlessly gentle guy, but his brother is gay, and the profane slur angers his sense of justice and taste.  You can’t blame him for cracking the guy’s head open like a walnut.

In fact, you want him to (admit it), and that bloodlust turns Goon into another kind of movie crossover.  In its escalating violence, in Doug’s physical and emotional rise through the ranks of hockey enforcement, Goon resembles a boxing movie as much as a hockey one.  All the standard sports movie tropes are here – hero overcomes initial performance jitters, hero faces conflicts from both within and without his ragtag home team, hero prepares for the climactic Big Game – except they are coupled to the physical rigors of a great boxing picture.

Watch how director Michael Dowse handles the end game, a desperate attempt for Doug’s Halifax Highlanders to enter the playoffs.  The first two-thirds focus on the actual game, but once Glatt and Schreiber’s character square off, the movie’s focus shifts squarely to the knockout, throwdown, stunningly choreographed brawl between the two fighters.  Dowse keeps the intensity so high that we don’t blame him for moving away from the hockey aspect: it can’t hope to compare with the violence.

And that’s all right.  Partly, we care more about the fight because Schreiber and Scott are so good; Schreiber approaches his weary pugilist like De Niro’s thief in Heat, while Scott’s (very) limited intelligence and sweetness offset the savagery of his actions.  But we respond to the violence because Dowse and screenwriters Baruchel & Evan Goldberg are up to something (slightly) unexpected – they have Glatt find true purpose in it.  He isn’t simply bashing the other guy into pulp; he’s defending his teammates (most notably Marc-André Grondin’s self-destructive showboat), and that sense of protection gives Doug’s life meaning.  It’s better living through broken teeth, an unironic love song to fisticuffs.

Goon isn’t perfect.  Unlike Slap Shot, it doesn’t define Glatt’s team as well as it does him (we get some good, funny performances from Richard Clarkin, Jonathan Cherry, and Kim Coates, but that’s about it), and as much as I liked Scott, his quirky relationship with Alison Pill’s self-described “slut” just isn’t as compelling as the stuff on the ice.  It also feels like Goon is missing one extra story beat; the great Eugene Levy plays Doug’s disapproving father, and the script sets up a conflict between him and his son that never resolves.

Even with those issues, though, this is a raw, funny, and blisteringly violent sports saga that dares to find the humanity in a profession seemingly bereft of it.  Doug Glatt loves his new job, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Magnolia’s Blu-ray offers a strong visual representation of the film; Goon looks more-than-a-little gritty and digital-smeary, but those attributes come from DP Bobby Shore shooting on HD.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is very aggressive and robust, though it loses some clarity during the film’s music montages.

Magnolia deserves a lot of credit for the special features.  Their supplements du jour tend towards bland EPK; other than the slight “Fighting 101,” “Goalie Audition,” “Goon Hockey Cards,” and HDNet’s “A Look at Goon,” the disc provides more substance than I expect from the distributor.  We get the “Power Play Mode” for the actual film, which inserts periodic BTS clips throughout the main feature (you can also view these bits separately); a great interview with Jay Baruchel and Seann William Scott; an even better commentary track with Dowse and Baruchel (note: this track is as raunchy as the movie); six deleted scenes; and a pretty solid gag reel.  The disc also contains Red-and-Greenband trailers.

It isn’t quite Slap Shot, but Goon is certainly the only hockey movie released since 1977 to credibly challenge that venerable classic’s seat on the throne.  Very funny, very gory, with Seann William Scott’s finest comedic performance.

Goon is now available on Blu-ray.  Click HERE for Amazon’s listing.

Home Culture Movie Review: Raunchy, Bloody GOON Offers Solid Hockey Thrills