Jay Baruchel’s Goon: Last of the Enforcers faces an uphill climb that’s inherent to retreads, as it’s almost impossible for the film to honor its predecessor without lapsing into contrived and preordained formula, squandering the very sense of discovery that made Michael Dowse’s Goon such a surprisingly forceful and poignant ode to battered and corporately exploited manhood. Baruchel, who also co-wrote and co-starred in Goon, perhaps senses the thanklessness of his task, because he liberally and dutifully stuffs Last of the Enforcers with elements from several of the most successful of all sports-movie sequels, Rocky II through Rocky IV, fashioning a fall-and-rise-again narrative that’s busy with gimmicky reversals.
Doug (Seann William Scott), once a tormented underdog, is now a respected pit bull of the minor league Canadian hockey circuit who’s happy with his pregnant wife, Eva (Alison Pill), though he’s also doubtful about his personal future, as beating people has a limited shelf life. Which is to say that Doug’s simultaneously where Rocky was in Rocky II and Rocky III: feeling vulnerable from encroaching fatherhood as well as in danger of losing his embittered edge. In the tradition of Rocky III‘s Clubber Lang comes Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell), who aims to beat Doug into oblivion, which he does with disconcerting ease in the film’s opening scene. Permanently hurt and facing retirement, Doug stages a comeback with the help of an old foe, Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), who helps Doug reacquaint himself with his, well, eye of the tiger, in the tradition of Apollo Creed’s unexpected tutelage of Rocky in Rocky III. Eventually, Eva has their child, and gives Doug her blessing to re-enter the ring in a scene that’s almost directly lifted from Rocky II.
It’s almost impossible for the film to honor its predecessor without lapsing into contrived and preordained formula.
Baruchel dramatizes these various derivations with a light touch that treads a fine line between earnestness and ridiculousness, but the plot machinery dilutes the primordially obscene violence that invigorated the first film. Last of the Enforcers is more self-consciously sentimental than Goon, and pivotal arcs are reduced to pat montages as Baruchel struggles to cram in a wealth of incident, often crushing the profane hang-out vibe of the series. For instance, Doug’s rediscovery of his inner anger occurs over a course of maybe 90 seconds; by contrast, Rocky III, for all its pummeling crassness, handled Rocky’s athletic rebirth with obsessive and unheralded intensity.
Though this film is preoccupied with justifying its existence, Baruchel does manage to sporadically capture the atmosphere of disreputable, ultraviolent, and ultra-masculine comedy that made Goon a worthy successor to films like Slap Shot, especially giving his actors opportunities to breathe life into potential caricatures. As Doug, Scott continues to channel a moving sense of stillness that reflects unease and discomfort with middle-class society, which is gracefully complemented by Schreiber’s warrior-sage vaudeville and Russell’s comic portrait of resentment. Baruchel and his actors understand that these athletes don’t merely wish to administer a beating, as they also yearn to be beaten without mercy as an externalization of their self-hatred and alienation. The film’s climax is a bloody triumph in the tradition of the self-obliterating carnage of Mel Gibson’s cinema: Beating Anders to a pulp, Doug realizes that his demons have been momentarily purged, but Anders looks up at Doug in defeat and hauntingly craves more.