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I’ve Never Seen: Goon (2011)

GoonDirector: Michael Dowse

Writers: Jay Baruchel, Evan Goldberg, based on the book by Adam Frattasio & Doug Smith

Cast: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy, Marc-Andre Grondin, Kim Coates, Nicholas Campbell

Plot: When Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott) trashes a minor league hockey player at a game, he’s called up to use his fighting skills as a player.

Thoughts: To kick off my “Movies I Haven’t Seen” reviews, I asked folks on Facebook to make random recommendations, and Goon walked off with the most support. From this, I can only assume the people on the internet hate me and want me to get brain cancer.

The story begins with Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a bouncer who gets offered a spot on a minor league hockey team when he beats the crap out of one of their players during a game, despite the fact that he has no discernable talent for hockey and, in fact, does not even appear to know how to ice skate. Overcoming these obstacles, he quickly gets moved up to a farm team for the majors.

Aside from having a script where the writer assumes dropping an F-bomb every 14 seconds is an acceptable substitute for characterization, this is where the first major problem with the movie appears. Doug goes to the farm team about 12 minutes into the movie – I know, I looked at the counter and couldn’t believe I’d only been subjected to 12 minutes of this so far. I imagine it’s not unlike Sisyphus reaching the top of his hill and then slipping and watching his stone roll to the bottom. But I digress (because it’s a way to avoid talking about this movie any further). In these twelve minutes, the director and screenwriter do absolutely nothing to make us believe that Doug has any business being in the major leagues. Sure, we see him hit a few people. So what? I’m by no means a hockey expert, but I’ve seen plenty enough of it to know that pretty much any other skill is going to have to be secondary to the ability to properly stand up in a pair of ice skates. The fact that he lasted more than 12 seconds, let alone minutes, it pretty ridiculous.

This turns out to be a repeat offense. After spending another 12 minutes on a team where everybody evidently hates each other, Doug meets a girl named Eva (Alison Pill), who he falls for in even less time. She, at least, turns out to be somewhat believable as a character, as she winds up having a secret that makes her seem as unlikable as everybody else in the movie. Then again, the fact that Doug goes along with this makes him less likable in the process.

That’s the real problem here, I just don’t buy any of this movie. The characters are all walking stereotypes, with no hint of depth or nuance at all. We’ve got the alcoholic with marital problems, the homophobe, the closeted gay man, and a bunch of people who exist only to be brutally violent and despise one another. Perhaps this is a casting choice. After all, Seann William Scott is usually the perpetually smarmy jerkass in movies. Since here he’s supposed to be the naïve, sweet guy who only gets brutal when he’s angry, perhaps the idea was to surround him by absolutely miserable examples of the human condition to get us to accept him in that role.

The amazing thing is that this is, evidently, based on a true story, which means at some point the core nugget of truth probably happened in some form. So how did something that happened in real life transmogrify into something that’s utterly unbelievable?

A little more than halfway through, the movie takes a turn for the more downbeat (up until this point it was supposed to be funny). Doug’s temper gets the better of him on the ice, his parents don’t approve of what he’s doing with his life, Eva continues to be an absolutely miserable person, and washed-up veteran Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber) warns Doug that he’s going to wind up just like him if he keeps going in that direction. Rather than bring him down to a low point from which he can build to redemption, though, the movie just gets more and more miserable, as Doug takes a truly brutal beating, which he then celebrates. The celebration scene, where the entire team is drunk and/or hopped up on prescription painkillers, is one of the most pathetic things ever put on screen.

If there’s anything I can say to this movie’s credit, it’s that it manages to avoid the major sports movie cliché of having everything come down to Who Wins the Big Game in the End. Oh, don’t misunderstand, there still is a big game, it’s just that the game itself is largely secondary to what happens between Doug and Rhea, a battle of goons that, like most of this movie, is ultimately pointless.

I know this movie has a fan base. What I can’t figure out is why.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

The Christmas Special Day 22: Hooves of Fire (1999)

hooves-of-fireDirector: Richard Goleszowski

Writers: Andy Riley, Kevin Cecil, Richard Curtis

Cast: UK VERSION-Robbie Williams, Ardal O’Hanlon, Paul Whitehouse, Jane Horrocks, Steve Coogan, Caroline Quentin, Jean Alexander, Ricky Tomlinson, Rhys Ifans, Harry Enfield; US Version-Ben Stiller, Britney Spears, James Woods, Brad Garrett, Hugh Grant, Leah Remini, James Belushi, Jerry Stiller, Rob Paulsen

Plot: The red-nosedRobbie the Reindeer (Ardal O’Hanlon/Ben Stiller) has long dreamed of winning a spot as the navigator on Santa’s sleigh team, and it looks like he’s finally being given a chance.  He reports to the sleigh team, run by a taskmaster-lke Blitzen (Steve Coogan/Hugh Grant). As Donner (Jane Horrocks/Britney Spears) shows him to his room, Blitzen begins plotting… he’s been jealous of Robbie’s father ever since the day that (unnamed) most famous reindeer of all saved Christmas, and now he can take revenge on that reindeer’s son. Donner quickly develops a crush on Robbie, but he’s oblivious, only having eyes for Vixen (Caroline Quentin/Leah Remini). Robbie meets Santa Claus (Ricky Tomlinson/James Belushi) for the first time at a party the boss is throwing for the elves, where Santa gushes over Robbie’s father and Vixen rebuffs his advances. Santa has a surprise for the party as well: he unveils the Sleigh Mark II, a new high-tech vehicle full of bells, whistles, and a computer navigation system. Robbie suddenly realizes that, to keep his spot on the sleigh team, he has to be physically fit… which will be hard, as Blitzen has been sabotaging his fitness training. Disheartened, Robbie wanders out into the snow to walk south. He winds up frozen solid and would be lost if he wasn’t found and thawed out by a group of elves. He joins them working in their toy factory, but a series of mishaps bumps him lower and lower on the totem pole until he’s stuck using his antlers for a forklift – which is where he is when Donner finds him. She tells him he’s still got a chance to make the sleigh team, if he can compete in and win the upcoming Reindeer Games. She also convinces him Blitzen has been his enemy all along, and they turn to a legendary reindeer named Old Jingle (Harry Enfield/Jerry Stiller) for help.

They find Old Jingle in his house, precariously perched at the top of Pointy Mountain, and Robbie asks him to help him train. Jingle tells him his best shot at winning is the Steeplechase event, and Robbie begins training. On the day of the games, Robbie suddenly becomes a crowd favorite by saving a baby from a fall. Vixen tries to use Robbie’s crush on her to force him out of the games, but he’s fallen for Donner instead. He leaves the stadium, however, when he learns that Jingle has been trapped under his house. He rushes off and saves the old reindeer, but misses the start of the race, and Blitzen gets an enormous lead. Amazingly, Robbie makes up ground quickly, and one of Blitzen’s cronies has him stumble into a steeple. Robbie uses his special “Nose Jump” to vault to the finish line, but the photo finish reveals Blitzen to be the winner. Donner kisses him, and in his glee Robbie rushes off and performs in every event, breaking all the records, albeit unofficially. As Robbie’s dad sends a congratulatory blimp over the stadium, Blitzen is carted off for drug testing and Santa gives Robbie the keys to the sleigh for the night. He takes Donner out for a romantic evening on the moon, where together they watch the Earth come up.

Thoughts: It’s always nice to see a tweak to a Christmas classic, and this BBC special from 1999 definitely qualifies. While they’re always careful to avoid mentioning Robbie’s famous father by name, there can be no doubt who he is or what made him so famous.

Hooves of Fire picks up on Rudolph, creating a bizarre semi-sequel by way of sports story. Robbie’s tale echoes his father’s in certain ways – picking up on the Reindeer Games, for example. His journey is not just a copy of his father’s however. Although his own nose does some weird things, it never becomes the center of the storyline the way Rudolph’s does. Robbie is made an outcast not because he’s different, but because Blitzen holds an old grudge against his family. Even when Robbie pulls out his nose’s special abilities at the end, they don’t directly contribute to his success. Remember, he loses the games. He wins in the end because he’s made everyone love him for reasons that don’t have anything to do with his nose. Also because Blitzen is a jerk who, evidently, was ‘roided up.

The plot with the Reindeer Games is a mirror of cheesy 80s sports movies… particularly, and appropriately, films like Ski School. We have the jerk jock and the Yoda-style mentor there to help win the day, the goofy protagonist who focuses on the sexpot without realizing the cute girl next door type is in love with him. The writers load up the tropes, and it’s usually for the purposes of ridicule. That’s kind of the weird thing about the comedy, actually – half of it is straight-up parody of Christmas movies, of sports movies, of romantic comedies and so forth. In the other half, though, the BBC gives the show a really sharp, unmistakably British sense of humor, full of cutway gags and non sequiturs that feel almost Monty Python-esque in their scope.

The stop motion used here feels a step beyond Will Vinton, closer to the sort of thing Aardman Animation puts out on their best days. Something about the character design is really bizarre, but in a funny way. The reindeer, for example, are actually weird 2-D designs, with eyes and a mouth that all go on the same side of the head like a character in Peanuts. The designers keep that feel when they plump the characters out for their animated forms, resulting in a set of reindeer heads that obviously don’t work in the real world, but work perfectly in the quirky version of the North Pole director Richard Goleszowski puts forth. The costuming is cute as well: Jingle walks around with briefs on over his clothing, the elves have several diverse designs that range from the traditional to the mini-biker. The steeples in the steeplechase are actual steeples, looking like they were ripped right off the houses.

And Mrs. Claus had a beard. What else is there to say?

If there’s any major complaint, it’s that for some reason they re-dubbed all of the voices with American actors for the stateside presentation of the film. (Except for Blitzen. In his case, they replaced British actor Steve Coogan with… more widely-known-in-the-US British actor Hugh Grant.) I can only assume this was some sort of effort at marketability. In the 13 years since this film was first made, of course, British pop culture has become much more popular here in the US of A – I imagine if this cartoon was released for the first time today, they probably wouldn’t have bothered with the American voices.

Robbie has returned in two other cartoons – Legends of the Lost Tribe in 2002, and 2007’s Close Encounters of the Herd Kind, the latter of which I was actually unaware of until I did the research for this article. I’ve got an older DVD, with the first two cartoons on it, but now I’ve got a quest. I’ve got to see the 2007 film, because Robbie rocks.