Movie Article

'Goon': The Rowdy True Story of a Hockey Enforcer

You don't have to be a world-class ice skater to play professional hockey — as long as you can throw a mean punch. Meet Doug Smith, whose unlikely path to the rink is the subject of a new indie comedy

Most sports biopics focus on athletes who have achieved excellence. Goon, an ice-hockey comedy starring Seann William Scott, goes a different route. The R-rated Canadian indie is based on the life of a minor-league hockey player named Doug Smith — a guy whose skating skills were jaw-droppingly awful. Smith didn't even put on his first pair of skates until he was 19. And when he initially tried out for a professional team, he failed to make the cut. ''The [recruiters] said, 'The goddamn goalies are beating you, in full equipment, in drills,''' recalls Smith, 47. '' 'You can't skate worth s---.'''

What he could do, however, was beat the crap out of people. Thanks to his amateur-boxer dad, Smith learned how to defend himself at an early age. During the late '80s and '90s, seven different hockey teams, including the Phoenix Roadrunners and the Carolina Thunderbirds, recruited Smith to be an ''enforcer,'' a player whose job is to pummel members of the opposition. In 2002, he published his autobiography, Goon. Six years later, first-time producers David Gross and Jesse Shapira optioned the book and soon approached Superbad co-writer Evan Goldberg to adapt it. But Goldberg knew little about hockey, so he asked fellow Canuck and die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder) to pen the script with him. ''My dad lionized a lot of enforcers,'' says Baruchel, who also costars as Scott's best friend. ''He played a little bit and often came home with some f---in' cast or something because he'd messed himself up playing hockey.''

With a budget of $12 million, Goon started shooting in Manitoba in the fall of 2010 with cult north-of-the-border director Michael Dowse (FUBAR) behind the camera. He spent three and a half weeks filming the hockey scenes, including a brutal punch-up between Scott and a veteran enforcer played by Liev Schreiber. While Scott says he was determined that his portrayal of Smith not turn the film into ''Forrest Gump on ice,'' Goon does depict its central character as a dimmer bulb than the real man is. ''When we watched the movie for the first time, the people I was with said, 'Jesus, they really made him out to be a dope,''' laughs Smith, who's now a cop in Massachusetts. ''I tell people, 'The book was authentic. The movie has a lot of Hollywood in it.'''

Not surprisingly, Goon recently topped the Canadian box office. Yet some critics there have been put off by the realistic violence depicted on screen. Following the premature deaths of several enforcers, a movement arose to ban puck pugilism for good. But Baruchel insists that one thing Goon does share with other sports biopics is a message that transcends just sports. ''It's about commitment and loyalty and clarity of purpose,'' he says. ''I don't want the lesson from this movie to be: Beating up people is awesome.''

Originally posted Mar 16, 2012 Published in issue #1199 Mar 23, 2012 Order article reprints
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