Seann William Scott, 35, has a strong, square jaw and a soft, beseeching voice; a narrow-eyed glare and a lopsided grin.
It’s as if his genes couldn’t decide if they belonged to a character actor or a leading man, and so they decided to split the difference.
He was perfectly cast at Stifler in the original “American Pie” (1999), the impish supporting troublemaker who ends up claiming the movie as his own. Too perfectly cast actually.
Since then, Hollywood hasn’t really known what to do with him. He’s doesn’t have the solemnity or self-importance to play a Mark Wahlberg-like action hero (see “Bulletproof Monk” and “The Rundown,” both 2003), and he’s a little too good-looking to convincingly play the henpecked and humiliated Ben Stiller type, as he tried to do in “Mr. Woodcock” (2007) and “The Promotion” (2008). He’s done himself no favors by reprising the Stifler role every few years in three “American Pie” sequels.
So it’s a pleasure to stumble upon the indie sports comedy “Goon,” which at long last affords Scott a leading role that suits him exquisitely. He stars as a lovable dim bulb named Doug Glatt, a bouncer at a bar in Massachusetts whose adoptive parents (Eugene Levy and Ellen David) still harbor the fantasy that he might turn out to be a doctor. Instead, he ends up in a brawl at a local hockey game, where the coach of the team takes note and invites him to try out: So what if he can’t really skate?
Directed by Canadian filmmaker Michael Dowse (“It’s All Gone Pete Tong”) and based on a book by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith — the latter a Massachusetts police officer-turned-minor league hockey player — “Goon” does a sly job satirizing the free-for-all bloodlust that makes nonhockey fans sometimes look upon the sport as if it’s been beamed in from another planet. On the ice, the players look for any chance they can to knock one another senseless, and Glatt, preposterously, but very endearingly, finds his place in the world as the biggest brute of them all. A few times Dowse allows the on-screen violence to turn too indulgently graphic, but more often he finds the right raucous-brutal balance; it’s “The Three Stooges” on Ice.
The screenplay, by Jay Baruchel (who plays Glatt’s best friend in the film) and Evan Goldberg (who co-wrote “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express”) affectionately hits on all the familiar sports movie tropes. There is the eccentric, ragtag team, prone to strange conversations in the locker room (see “Bull Durham”); the aging rival (Liev Schreiber) against whom Glatt must eventually face off (see “Any Given Sunday”); even a play-by-play announcer (Curt Keilback, a real-life announcer for the Winnipeg Jets), who seems to have borrowed his playbook from Bob Uecker in “Major League.” At certain points, you might feel as if you’re watching a wholesale remake of “Slap Shot,” the 1977 comedy that starred Paul Newman as the unlikely hockey player-coach.
But even if you know exactly where it’s going, “Goon” barrels its way forward, much like its lead actor, with a rowdy, infectious good cheer. Scott generates a gentle chemistry opposite Alison Pill (she was Zelda Fitzgerald in “Midnight in Paris”), who plays Adrian to his Rocky, and he makes us feel the plight of a lost soul who still has to fight to make people take him seriously.
Movies this silly aren’t usually also this tender, but “Goon” (to mix a few sports metaphors) finds the sweet spot and scores.