Written into the mythos of hockey is the role of the enforcer (or, as they are affectionately known, goons). For every Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, there was a goon around to protect their star. A cheap shot on Gretzky came at a cost and the goon put a face to that cost as well as a fist. Dale Hunter, Terry O’Reilly, Donald Brashear, and Marty McSorley made the ice a little safer for the stars of the NHL, but in an era of high scoring and little checking, goons have been declared monsters and discretely sent packing. Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott) is one such goon, though he plays in the much less glamorous EMHL, protecting skillful forward Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin).
Doug made his name by dispatching the EMHL’s dominant enforcer Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), and in doing so became captain of the Halifax Highlanders for the upcoming season. Doing so draws Doug in the crosshairs of Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell), a hybrid of playmaker-tough guy, who wants to make a name for himself. Nicknamed “The Thug” by the Highlanders faithful, the fans are shocked when Doug takes a beating that even he can’t get up from. Notified by doctors he can’t throw a punch with his right arm again, Doug retires to sell insurance. Anders’ father, Hyrum (Callum Keith Rennie), is the new owner/GM of the Highlanders. He also represents the swift and brutal commercialization of sports ownership. Once Doug is out of the picture, Hyrum brings in Ander to be the new captain of the Highlanders. Doug’s spot didn’t even go cold before it was replaced.
Enforcers are used up and abused before they’re in early retirement. Left with little money and lifelong ailments, retired enforcers and other fourth-liners join Bruised and Battered for the chance to win $400. There, Doug spots Ross, sans dignity, and feels a pang to get back to the Highlanders. The first Goon resembled a mash-up of Rocky and Slap Shot. For better and worse, Goon: Last of the Enforcers looks more like Rocky III. Right down to Doug seeking assistance from a former foe, Ross, in order to beat his new rival.
Jay Baruchel, who wrote the first Goon, takes up directing duties in addition to the script. When Baruchel isn’t onscreen as Doug’s crude buddy, he has an eye for covering the action. A lifelong fan of hockey he knows how to capture the grace of the sport while not forgetting the grit of it. What transpires off the ice is what leaves Goon: Last of the Enforcers a shadow of the original. The juvenile humor on display was tolerable the first time out, but this sequel loses its appeal when the raunch outweighs the endearing character exchanges that the first film offered. Gross-out gags try too hard to land and Doug’s lovable dopiness is downgraded to outright stupidity. When he answers a call from his very pregnant wife, Eva (Allison Pill), Doug replies “Eva, hello! It’s me, Doug Glatt!” By turning Doug into a shell of his former self and Eva a cliched housewife, Goon: Last of the Enforcers loses sight of what made the original such a pleasant surprise: authenticity.
Goon‘s surprise underdog success was built on the backs of living in the moment with real characters. Exploring the very agitated psyches of goaltenders, a coach with a few screws loose (Kim Coates), and just exactly what makes people strap on skates and launch themselves into each other on slick surfaces. Schreiber and Scott still bring some laughs, but some of the laughs catch on the dark consequences of the punchline. There is a lot of poignancy in how players like Doug and Ross are spit out by the system of professional sports; Ross’ CTE and lack of funds means he will likely die fighting on the ice. Still, Baruchel forgoes more insight on the matter in favor of familiar dramatic convention. It makes one wonder if there can be a great sports film sequel. So far we’re still waiting.