The trailer for this started showing up, and it looked kind of loopy and charming, as well as featuring the lovely face of Seann William Scott with a beard and acting alluringly simple, so when it was down to this or 21 Jump Street, this one won out for promising to be unexpectedly good, as opposed to an extended one-joke wonder. Still, on it's first week open, this was only playing at two theaters, and tucked up into these completely out-of-the-way theaters at the multiplex (on the weird, nowheresville mezzanine), making me wonder what this movie did to deserve such a low-key release. Maybe because it's so violent, and without a big star, it was pre-ordained that no one would be interested?
Not to mention that Seann William Scott has still to shake off the perception that he is just the goof from those American Pie movies. Any of the seven people who saw him in Southland Tales knows that he can bring a great deal of depth to a role, and is perfectly capable of carrying a movie on his own, but I just don't think enough people saw that. Anyway, here he is Doug, a bouncer at a bar in Massachusetts. He is Jewish, and his brother is gay. An early scene shows us that his family is not exactly proud of how he turned out. He has a gay best friend, who is a huge hockey fan. When there is a dust-up at a hockey game, one of the players comes up into the stands, insulting Doug's gay friend, Ryan, and Doug also says "Hey, my brother is gay." He punches the guy's lights out, which is witnessed by the whole stadium. The next day, the coach of the team wants Doug to try out. It is a nice little touch that for a "macho" sports movie, this one goes out of its way to reach out the hand of friendship to gays.
So here's something I didn't know, which is that (apparently?) there's this whole thing about hockey where the players can just get in fights, and it's kind of expected, and has become largely what the spectacle is about. And often these fights are just two guy holding onto each other, pounding away at each other's face, not even trying to dodge or get away. This is Doug's job. He is told up front that he's not there to play hockey, he's there just to beat people up. He can also barely skate when he first starts. He does well on his new team, and in a heartbeat he is recruited to join a minor-league team on Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Doug is really excited to be on the team, and is touchingly sincere about it. Scott is able to play this character as charmingly simple-minded and sincere without making him seem like a dolt, and without seeming like a smart person condescending to him. Doug is assigned to defend the team's star player, LaFlamme, who was an amazing player, but has grown timid since he was injured by the current reigning hockey goon, Ross Rhea. LaFlamme has descended into drug use and dissipation. Meanwhile, Rhea is about to retire, and word reaches him that Doug is his successor. Pressure mounts to see the two of them fight.
Also woven into the story is Eva, local girl who catches Doug's eye. She is up front about being turned on by hockey players, and says outright: "I'm kind of a slut. I sleep with a lot of guys." She also has a boyfriend, and flirts with Doug, while also keeping him at arm's length. They have a very sweet, lengthy courtship that feels completely sincere and natural. Halfway through the movie, Doug's parents show up to see his achievement, but are horrified when they see the reality of what he's doing. "It's an infantile way to make a living," his father says, but Doug comes out and says "Look, I'm stupid. This is something I can do, and it's the first time I can wear a shirt that doesn't say 'Security.'"
All those elements in place, the movie just proceeds in a clever-enough, funny-enough, deep-enough way to the end. It kind of follows a sports-movie formula, but also makes time for romance and comedy, and sprinkles on enough depth to make it feel unexpectedly rich without weighing it down. This, I think, may be among the reasons it's getting such an apologetic release, because it is quite good on many broad fronts, but not enough of a hit on any one of them that it could be easily pigeonholed and sold as one thing. Which kind of adds to its appeal, as it is special, charming and unassuming, unlike any of the other market-tested, predigested entertainments out there. As my friend Howard said upon leaving: "That was so much better than The Fighter."
So while it's unlikely that this will be anyone's favorite movie, I doubt anyone would go away unhappy. Stay past the credits to see footage of the real fights starring the real Doug. You can add fifteen points to your potential enjoyment if you find gazing upon the beatific face of Seann William Scott bulked-up and with a beard to be a transcendent experience. Let's get this guy some more good movies and take advantage of this fellow's potential.
If you like sports movies and slacker comedies.