Seann William Scott, the grinning maniac from the “American Pie” movies, has found a place for his sneaky energy. He’s put it on ice.
I mean this in two ways. For the lead role in “Goon,” Scott underplays his part; he’s even put on extra weight, which cools down his delivery and makes him look dim and soft.
But he’s also literally on ice: “Goon” is a hockey story, vaguely based on a real case, about a player whose only apparent talent is his ability to clobber members of the opposing team.
Scott plays Doug Glatt, whose family has never quite come to terms with the fact that Doug is — how shall we say this — not a rocket scientist. However, his really hard head is noticed by the hockey world, and his plucky willingness to defend his teammates by throwing punches has him moving up the professional ranks.
True, Doug spends more time in the penalty box than on the ice. But the movie manages to make his enforcer role seem like an act of loyalty rather than actual maliciousness. This is the only place Doug has ever fit in.
Let’s be clear: The movie’s got blood-spitting violence, and the script by Jay Baruchel (the “Tropic Thunder” star who plays a supporting part here) and Evan Goldberg is rife with profanity. They know hockey.
But the surprise is the presence of a kind of cheerful good nature beneath the satirical jabs and the bloodshed. Director Michael Dowse (who made the misfired “Take Me Home Tonight”) doesn’t completely nail that blend of moods — it’s a tricky one to get right — but comes pretty close.
A lot of that is fueled by the way Seann William Scott bores in on the role, giving Doug a classic squirrel-in-the-headlights sense of uncertainty and helplessness. Except when he’s about to rip his gloves off and wale on a guy, of course.
Doug even finds romance, in the form of a groupie (Allison Pill, who played Zelda Fitzgerald in “Midnight in Paris”) who seems so astonished by his simplicity that she kinda falls for him despite herself.
Special mention must be made of Liev Schreiber, an actor not always famous for his comic touch. He plays hockey’s most legendary bully, a lethal enforcer with an awesome ’70s mustache. Schreiber is funny, but he also invests a certain weary majesty in this guy, one of the unexpected little surprises about this modest movie.
“Goon” (2½ stars)
A dimwit with a hard head (bulked-up Seann William Scott) finds his purpose as a hockey enforcer: a guy who can’t really play the game, but can take out opposing players with a well-placed elbow. The mix of violence and sweetness doesn’t always work, but things click more frequently than expected, and Liev Schreiber has a classic supporting turn.
Rating: R, for violence, language, subject matter.
Showing: Varsity theater.