Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Goon: Last of the Enforcers

Marvel perversely decided to make Captain America a fascist double-agent and Warner Brothers will probably turn Superman evil in the Justice League movie everyone is dreading, but Doug “the Thug” Glatt is the same likable lug he always was. He is the nicest guy, but the only talent he ever had was for fighting. Yet, Glatt was able to use his gifts for good rather than evil in hockey’s minor leagues. He still has a passion for the game, but his aging body is not so reliable in Jay Baruchel’s Goon: Last of the Enforcers, which opens this Friday in New York.

After several playoff-less years with your Halifax Highlanders, Glatt is finally rewarded with the captain’s “C.” Unfortunately, he will not have long to enjoy it. Glatt will be hospitalized by the mentally unstable Anders Cain, who could be a huge star if he could just control his temper. He also happens to be the son of the Highlanders’ new owner, former NHL all-everything Hyrum Cain. Since his enforcer has been forced to accept retirement, Cain brings in his son to replace Glatt’s muscle. Not surprisingly, Glatt’s teammates bitterly resent his presence.

It doesn’t sit well with Glatt either. Despite his promising his wife Eva he will settle down and plug away at his office job, Glatt yearns to return to hockey. Just like in Rocky III, Glatt’s old nemesis Ross “The Boss” Rhea steps up to train him for his big comeback. Rhea likes to think he can still throw down, but he has been reduced to scuffling in a hockey-themed club fighting showcase. Glatt has better options available than the battle royale on ice, but his loyalties to his wife and his team pull him in diametrically opposite directions.

The original Goon was the little movie that came out of nowhere to hold its own with beloved sports comedies like Slap Shot, Bad News Bears, and Kingpin. Sure, it had its share of rude humor and bruising hockey fighting, but Glatt always had a good heart and absolutely no cynicism whatsoever. Baruchel, who co-wrote and co-starred in the original clearly understood his appeal and wisely keeps Doug the Thug’s persona honest and guileless.

In fact, the follow-up is rather clever, in that it recognizes the similar potential pitfalls that face both film sequels and sports comebacks. As Glatt labors to overcome injuries and setbacks, Baruchel wrestles with sports movie clich├ęs, but they both have the same solution: let Glatt be Glatt. Indeed, what makes the film surprisingly compelling a second time around is the ways he must struggle to balance his faithfulness to both his family and his team.

Forget Stiffler. Doug Glatt is the role that will define Seann William Scott. It is easy to get distracted by the flying fists, but his portrayal of the socially awkward Glatt is quite sensitive and complex. He is simply a great movie underdog. Even though she gets less screen-time in Enforcers, Scott still maintains his down-to-earth comedic and romantic chemistry with Alison Pill’s Eva.

However, the big surprise is Wyatt Russell as the volatile Anders Cain. Russell is a former professional hockey player and the son of Kurt Russell, so he could maybe relate to the troubled Cain in more than one way. He is certainly brutish, but he also humanizes Cain, conveying his persistent father issues and acute need for approval. In an added bonus, he even delivers some wryly funny lines. Yet, it is tough for anyone to beat the film’s ace in the hole: Liev Schrieber reprising the role of bad to the bone, but past his prime Ross Rhea.

There are a lot of laughs in Last of the Enforcers, but it still addresses issues facing aging athletes, like post-concussion syndrome, with the seriousness they demand. Baruchel probably lets the fights get a little too bloody, but perhaps there is some method to his excess. Regardless, Glatt and the Halifax Highlanders still have their scrappy, longshot mojo working. Affectionately recommended for fans of sports comedies and underdogs who make good, Goon: Last of the Enforcers opens this Friday (9/1) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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