A gem among umpteen lame Canadian hockey comedies, 2011’s “Goon” was an unexpectedly snappy mix of violent slapstick, screwball farce and modern dude humor, one that struck a chord with viewers (at least eventually, particularly up north; in the U.S., it found its primary audience in home formats after modest box-office performance). Belated sequel “Goon: Last of the Enforcers” brings back most of the winning original cast, plus some promising new faces, in a slick followup.
Not returning, however, are original director Michael Dowse or writer Evan Goldberg, with star and co-writer Jay Baruchel taking over helming duties in his feature directorial bow. The earlier duo are missed. One immediately detects the lowered brow of Baruchel and Jesse Chabot’s new material, as well as its competent but uninspired handling, which extends to less viscerally funny rink action. “Goon” was a keeper. The perhaps prophetically named “Last” isn’t exactly 101 minutes in the penalty box, but it’s a disappointing throwaway.
At the start, lovably thick-witted Doug “The Thug” Glatt (Seann William Scott) is still at it in his “dream job” as designated enforcer for the Halifax Highlanders, exploiting his gift for pounding face while remaining so nice that he apologizes after (and sometimes during) each beatdown. Making life yea sweeter is his appointment as the team’s captain, somewhat to the chagrin of the more logical choice, star player and foe-turned-bestie Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin). But in a match against the Reading Wolfdogs, Doug meets his match: Ginger-bearded, blond-maned Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell) is not only a hotshot on the ice, he’s also hot-tempered and quick-fisted. Picking a fight, Anders knocks our hero senseless, to a degree where Doug might be permanently sidelined.
Two months later, Doug is indeed unhappily “celebrating” retirement from the game, his right arm still in a sling. That’s all for the best, as far as now-wife Eva (Alison Pill) is concerned: She’s pregnant, and a fully functioning husband/father is preferable to one coping with “post-concussion syndrome” like his wearily still-active enforcer idol Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber). Doug gets a job at an insurance company, a poor fit he’s nonetheless resigned to.
Meanwhile, the Highlanders are in turmoil. Adding insult to literal injury, their new teammate and captain is the very man who destroyed the beloved old one. Worse still, arrogant Anders is son to their rich, ruthless owner (Callum Keith Rennie), so he can’t be put in his place. When Anders’ own rink goonery goes too far, Doug — who’s secretly had Ross retrain him as a newly left-handed punisher — gets rehired as enforcer. But the rivalry between them continues to boil towards an inevitable mano-a-mano climax.
The basic elements that made “Goon” so likable are back, topped by Scott, a solid-gold comic actor who’s never quite cemented the stardom he earned in various buddy and ensemble vehicles (including “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and the “American Pie” series). He remains endearing as “the Thug,” a tongue-tied contrast to the garrulous horndogs he’s often typecast as. But despite a few delectable moments (as when Doug serenely thanks his wife for saying he smells like hot dogs) and seldom being off-screen, his considerable strengths aren’t played to. The first film burrowed deep into its protagonist’s sweetly dim mindset. Here, he too often seems a pawn amidst busy mechanizations by a large array of colorful characters who too seldom do anything funny.
They include Rennie’s stock soulless-corporate-badguy, as well as Elisha Cuthbert as Eva’s crass sister Mary. She’s too obviously a femme sidekick equivalent to Baruchel’s potty-mouthed Pat, who really wears out his welcome here despite reduced screentime. Russell (who’s actually played pro hockey) does his best in what’s eventually a thankless role: We’re meant to understand Anders doesn’t really want to be the rageaholic jerk his coldly manipulative father demands. But their conflict is one of many elements the screenplay introduces, then fails to develop. (The two actors do get a decent, bilious mutual kiss-off scene.) Ditto Jason Jones’ role as an insurance company boss, and “Silicon Valley’s” T.J. Miller as a TV sports announcer whose shtick completely misfires.
Bloopers under the closing credits reveal how much improvisation was involved here — and how that’s a poor substitute for a good script, no matter how talented the cast. Even Doug’s misfit teammates, so funny the first time around, now strain for laughs that seldom come — particularly Trent Pardy taking Ricky Mabe’s place as Stevesie, plus George Tchortov and Karl Graboshas’ raunchy Russian brothers. Pill’s character loses its edge, getting reduced to the standard “Honey, be careful” wife (even though she has a brief late speech decrying just that). Schreiber and Grondin remain fine in their relatively straight-faced turns.
The sequel’s major theme, if it has one, is the emotional and physical pain of aging out from an often brutal sport. But the modicum of drama and poignancy that Baruchel and company reach for here feels like forced sentimentality, just as the bad-taste humor which had a bracing riskiness in 2011 now plays as rote scatology.
As happy as we may be to see these characters again at the start, by the time Doug lays down his hockey stick for good at this comedown’s close, we aren’t sad to see them go. They’ve taken enough abuse, and perhaps deserve to be retired while they still retain at least some of our goodwill.