“Goon: Last of the Enforcers” Fights for its Laughs

Directed by: Jay Baruchel
Written by: Jay Baruchel, Jesse Chabot
Based on the book “Goon” by: Adam Frattasio, Douglas Smith
Starring: Seann William Scott, Alison Pill, Liev Schreiber, Elisha Cuthbert, Wyatt Russell, T.J. Miller, Jay Baruchel, Jason Jones, Kim Coates, Callum Keith Rennie
Produced by: David Gross, André Rouleau, Jay Baruchel
Music by: Trevor Morris
Cinematography by: Paul Sarossy
Editing by: Jason Eisener

The subtitle of Goon: Last of the Enforcers, a sequel to the belly-laugh-heavy Goon from 2011, is about as mysterious as the subtitle of a new Star Wars. After watching the film twice, I still don’t know who, exactly, it refers to, or which specific enforcers are through doing their, erm, enforcings.

In the grand scheme of things, however, this is minutiae, because the new film, long-in-the-anticipating for fans of the Canadian-made prequel, is nearly as funny as its predecessor and even bloodier, for those that like that kind of thing. Though others will still be put off by its obscene display of smashed faces and jangling teeth, G2 has smartly upped the ante on its predecessor’s key assets without stepping far outside the narrative box. As a result, it’s a dang hooter.

Seann William Scott, as underrated a comic maestro as Hollywood has, returns as Doug Glatt, a slow but kindly Buddha figure with a vicious loyalty to his hockey team. Scott is the perfect cast for the role: doe-eyed, dopey, and containing a secret mischievousness, Glatt is a human punching bag who apologizes moments after destroying his enemies on the ice.

But he is also 6 years older here, with a light graying of the temples. Naturally, he is targeted for annihilation by a dead-eyed, younger competitor named Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell), who soon joins Glatt’s team in an act of animal sabotage.

By the time the opening credits are done rolling, Glatt is dealing with injuries that permanently threaten his career as a goon. That news upsets his wife, Eva (Alison Pill, effervescent and charming), who is pregnant and desperate to keep Doug from fighting again; his teammates, including Québécois hotshot Xavier LaFlamme (an underutilized Marc-André Grondin); and Glatt’s randy best friend, again played by the film’s director and co-writer, Jay Baruchel.

Baruchel, whose achievements in American comedy are wrapped up in his type-casting as an actor, makes his feature directorial debut here a more worthwhile one than could be expected. It is rare for a comedy sequel, typically a dead zone for genuine humor unless produced by Pixar, to work smoothly at any narrative level.

But Baruchel, who is often the funniest person onscreen, displays indispensable gifts as a filmmaker: for example, in his direction of actors like Russell, whose increasingly murderous aggression recalls the manic jealousy of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction; or of Liev Schreiber, who returns as Glatt’s world-weary frenemy, Ross Rhea.

Even Scott has sharpened his performance to diamond-strength stupidity, a low-energy alternative to the more rambunctious character he made his name with in the American Pie series.

Baruchel also stages several sequences more visually impressive than any in Goon (with due respect to director Michael Dowse), synthesizing a wider range of brutalist VFX and convincing stunt work with his all-important make-up team.

Suffering from his injuries at one point, Glatt and Rhea participate in a desperate Battle Royale, where the winner will be whomever can walk upright at the end. During the skirmish, which Baruchel directs like Braveheart on ice, a dozen stuntpeople get convincingly socked, smacked, and tossed aside, movie blood covering designer Lea Carlson’s costumes. The imagery is darkly funny, but more importantly, it looks and sounds horribly authentic as the men’s bodies get ripped apart.

For those that can stand Baruchel’s and his team’s handiwork, there are great gags to be found in the violence, often due to a collision of masculine stereotypes. On several occasions, Glatt and Rhea find themselves assaulting giant bullies with uppercuts and sharp one-liners. And as usual for Apatow-descended, male-centric comedies (Evan Goldberg, the co-writer of Goon and Superbad, executive produced with Scott), the end credits save the best jokes for last.

Yet there is a squirm-inducing nihilism to the combat that, with this year’s dearth of bloodstained action cinema, rubs the wrong way.

Like John Wick 2 and The House, both improbably nasty gorefests, Last of the Enforcers projects a desire to move as quickly through its simple story as possible, the better to get to the good stuff.

It remains baffling and sometimes repulsive the kinds of pleasure filmmakers take in gushing blood and cracked bones, even when such images supplement a more psychologically dangerous atmosphere, as in the films of Michael Haneke or Quentin Tarantino.

Baruchel is not only as attentive to red spurts of corn syrup as those filmmakers – he is also equally as gleeful. Consider the almost erotic charge with which Pill’s character describes watching men beat the living shit out of each other. She is intended as our surrogate, however unsuccessfully (#NotMySurrogate?)

Russell’s Anders Cain also unearths an unapologetic forsakenness in Baruchel’s approach. Because Cain is large, sociopathic, and above all, an upper-middle-class Caucasian athlete, he could ostensibly kill without legal consequence (just this last weekend, that same specter hovered over Conor McGregor as he fought Floyd Mayweather Jr..)

In those moments where Cain, a goon of a more bloodthirsty strain, confronts his father and team owner (Callum Keith Rennie), we sense that he wishes to cause real, conclusive pain. It’s far from funny – in the real world, the Cains resemble domestic terrorists, or worse.

It’s not that every film needs to spread peace and warmth by any means, but these filmmakers would have been better advised to temper themselves. At this particular time in Western society (and this is hardly the movie’s fault), such hypermasculine aggression is unwelcome even with dialogue as light as this.

For Baruchel, a note going into the next film: when choosing between jokes or fights, always go for the funnybone.

Goon: Last of the Enforcers is available on VOD and Digital HD on Sept. 1st.

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