HEAVY METAL (1981)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Gerald Potterton, Jimmy T. Murakami, Harold Whitaker, John Halas, Julian Harris, Barrie Nelson, Paul Sabella, Jack Stokes & Pino Van Lamsweerde

Written by: Daniel Goldberg, Len Blum, Dan O’Bannon, Richard Corben, Bernie Wrightson, Angus McKie & Jean Giraud

Voices of: Don Francks, Caroline Semple, Richard Romanus, Susan Roman, Al Waxman, Harvey Atkin, John Candy, Marilyn Lightstone, Eugene Levy & Joe Flaherty

Based on HEAVY METAL magazine, the aptly titled R-rated animated anthology made a splash during the 80’s. This strange blend of science fiction, fantasy, and fun has been held up as a cult classic in the decades following its release. There’s something to be said for HEAVY METAL’s vibrant animation and no-holds-barred silliness. These qualities mix with an appropriately rockin’ soundtrack to make an all-around good time. Though the various stories range in quality, HEAVY METAL is worth the time of anyone who might be intrigued from the idea of an adult-oriented sci-fi/fantasy animated anthology. That concept, in and of itself, is something special. Without further ado, I’ll get onto the stories themselves…

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GRIMALDI: This wraparound tale begins with an astronaut giving his daughter a glowing orb as a present. Unfortunately for both of them, the orb is sentient and evil. The menacing green circle proceeds to melt the father and corner the daughter. The green orb then tells her tales of its evil influence throughout time and space. These wraparound segments are enjoyable, but simply tie the other (mostly better) stories together through narration. The father’s death by melting is cool enough and the ending nicely ties into the final story, even though it opens up a world of plot holes that you just kind of have to accept. All in all, the animation and sheer craziness of this story overshadow its convoluted nature. B-

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HARRY CANYON: In the distant year of 2031, Harry Canyon is a New York cabbie without a care in the world. This changes when a desperate young woman gets into his car. Soon, Harry finds his life upended as a colorful band of thugs comes looking for a strange artifact and missing dame. This is basically a sci-fi noir that lasts about 10 minutes. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and packs in a fair share of action. The story is well-paced in that it leaves the viewer satisfied and never overstays its welcome. This is one of the better stories in the film! B+

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DEN: A teenage geek discovers a green meteorite and is transported into the mystical world of Neverwhere. Besides being in an entirely new dimension, the geek also finds himself in a bald, muscular body. Adopting the name “Den,” the geek-turned-hero rescues a damsel, negotiates with a cocky immortal, and finds himself beset by the sexual advances of an evil queen. DEN is definitely the goofiest short in the bunch, but wears its corny nature as a badge of pride and constantly pokes fun at itself (through the teenage nerd’s narration). This isn’t exactly perfect, because the plot could easily turn some viewers off. I enjoyed this dumb little adventure for exactly what it was…a dumb little adventure. B

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CAPTAIN STERNN: This story follows a cocky space captain who’s been accused of terrible crimes. Confident that a bribed witness will come through, Captain Sternn pleads “Not Guilty” and finds that a glowing green rock quickly turns the trial against him in ways he never could have imagined. Of all the shorts in HEAVY METAL, this one definitely had the funniest story. It also has the best use of rock music in the entire film for me, which is really saying something when you consider that the likes of Black Sabbath, Devo, and Blue Oyster Cult are included on the soundtrack. The fantastic use of Cheap Trick’s “Reach Out” elevates this short’s humor and entertainment value tenfold. This is tied for my favorite segment in the film. A-

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B-17: Tied with CAPTAIN STERNN for my favorite segment in the film, B-17 is a horror story set on a WWII bomber. The story is simple, but effective. A pilot finds that the horrors of war also come in undead forms and desperately tries to escape a gruesome fate aboard his plane. This might be the shortest segment in the film, but it’s effective as hell. The creepy images are brought to life through unnerving atmospheric animation. The ending is also effectively eerie and concludes like any great campfire horror story should, leaving you scared and loving every second of it. If you don’t watch the entirety of HEAVY METAL, you should definitely check out B-17 and CAPTAIN STERNN on their own! A-

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SO BEAUTIFUL AND SO DANGEROUS: The film’s two best stories are followed by its worst segment. This story follows a young woman who is abducted onto a spacecraft occupied by stoner aliens and a horny robot. Think about CAPTAIN STERNN and then strip it of everything that works. This is basically what SO BEAUTIFUL AND SO DANGEROUS feels like. It’s lame, forced, and ultimately pointless. The sheer mediocrity is made only worse by everything that came before it. Colorful visuals and cool animation do save this story from being a complete disaster, but it’s easily HEAVY METAL’s weakest point. C

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TAARNA: I might receive some flack for my opinion on this final segment. The last story follows warrior Taarna’s quest to save a peaceful city from mutated barbarians. Despite TAARNA being frequently cited as the “fan favorite” of HEAVY METAL, I only found this segment to be good…but far from great. The imagery here is cool and I enjoyed the scenes of this badass babe whooping the weapon-wielding mutants’ asses, but this segment also drags out far longer than it should. There’s a long sequence of Taarna flying to the city that seemed purposely stretched out for the sake of cramming more music into the film’s soundtrack. TAARNA also ties up the wraparound story in a head-scratching way that you just kind of have to accept. This short contains cool visuals, but is nothing truly special. B

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HEAVY METAL is worth watching if you’re up for an 80’s animated anthology of violence, humor, nudity, and cool imagery. This film isn’t exactly high art, but remains very entertaining and impressive for being exactly what it is. Some stories (CAPTAIN STERNN and B-17) are definitely better than others (SO BEAUTIFUL AND SO DANGEROUS and GRIMALDI), but the film as a whole is 90 minutes well spent. Whether you’re watching it under the influence of mind-altering substances or you just want to dive into a rockin’ blast from the 80’s past, HEAVY METAL comes recommended for those who enjoy this sort of thing! You know who you are.

Grade: B

MULTIPLICITY (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexual Situations

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Directed by: Harold Ramis

Written by: Chris Miller, Mary Hale, Harold Ramis, Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel

Starring: Michael Keaton, Andie MacDowell, Zack Duhame, Katie Schlossberg, Harris Yulin, Richard Masur & Eugene Levy

When most people hear the name Harold Ramis, they usually think of GHOSTBUSTERS or GROUNDHOG DAY. They might even think of ANALYZE THIS, but 1996’s MULTIPLICITY doesn’t seem to be brought up in enough conversations. This film was not a success upon its release, debuting at #7 in its opening weekend and making less than half of its budget back at the box office. This is a bummer, because MULTIPLICITY is a great sci-fi romantic comedy that’s been buried by the passage of time. Featuring effects that remain impressive today, a light-hearted atmosphere that just doesn’t quit and lots of laughs, MULTIPLCITY deserves to be rediscovered.

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Doug Kinney (Michael Keaton) is a stressed out construction worker who barely has time for his family. Being overwhelmed with his job and life itself, Doug happens to cross paths with mad scientist Dr. Leeds (Harris Yulin). This strange man specializes in making dreams come true through a state-of-the-art cloning process. Doug decides to sign up for the procedure and walks away with macho work-obsessed Two (also Michael Keaton). Eventually life begins to overwhelm the two Dougs, so feminine Three (still Michael Keaton) and dim-witted Four (were you expecting anyone else besides Michael Keaton?) enter the picture. Doug’s three clones begin to form their own distinct personalities as the days pass by and soon, Doug finds himself trying to keep his life together…in spite of the very clones that were created to save it.

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Decades before receiving two Academy Award nominations, Michael Keaton displayed serious versatility in his acting. Besides playing Batman and a couple of villains, Keaton was mainly known for goofy comedic characters. In MULTIPLICITY, he’s playing four very different types of comedy. As Doug, he’s a stressed out father/husband trying to keep his life together without going crazy. As Two, he’s a man’s man who becomes obsessed with work and isn’t afraid to get into other people’s faces. As Three, he’s an overly feminine and detail oriented person. As Four, he’s kind of annoying to an over-the-top degree, but still managed to get a few laughs out of me. It says something for Keaton’s performances when you can tell all of these characters apart simply from body language and speech patterns.

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As you might imagine, MULTIPLICITY’s comedy derives from misunderstandings, mix-ups and crazy scenarios. Though the premise constantly runs on suspense of the clones running into each other in the public places and in front of Doug’s family, the film doesn’t feel like it’s forcing any of these moments at all. One particularly funny bit comes from the three clones running into Doug’s wife on the same night…all to receive a similar response from her. Another scene in a restaurant balances suspense and goofiness as I was actually wondering “Okay, how are they going to get out of this one?” The film has lots of humor that works and steadily keeps momentum going through its main plot that connects all four Dougs.

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As Doug’s wife, Andie MacDowell is a woman on the edge and brings more serious aspects into the story. You might feel like Doug is a jerk for even going through this cloning process to begin with. That’s sort of the point though and it makes the ultimate story arc that much more satisfying. Though people who aren’t fans of awkward humor (think MEET THE PARENTS or NATHAN FOR YOU) may find themselves cringing at parts of this film through their fingers, most viewers will likely get a kick out of this underappreciated comedy.

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MULTIPLICITY also dazzles in its special effects that hold up perfectly today. Michael Keaton was essentially playing four different roles and acting off his own imagination for a majority of his scenes. The four Keatons sitting together on a couch or hanging out in the garage all come off as totally convincing to look at. I know that camera tricks are obviously used in films where an actor is playing twins, but MULTIPLICITY constantly has Michael Keaton coming face to face with himself. It’s hard to imagine the pain-staking level of work and attention to detail this must have taken to perfect, but the results look flawless. With these special effects, smart writing, and plenty of laughs to be had, MULTIPLICITY is worth a viewing…or two…or three…or even four!

Grade: B+

FINDING DORY (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for mild Thematic Elements

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Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Written by: Andrew Stanton & Victoria Strouse

Voices of: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Alexander Gould, Ed O’Neil, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Michael Sheen, Andrew Stanton, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett & Stephen Root

Ever since Pixar was bought by Disney, the studio has produced more sequels and less original films. We’ve had a third TOY STORY installment (which was amazing), CARS 2 (their worst film thus far), MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (an okay-at-best prequel) and still face a growing horde of follow-ups on the horizon with TOY STORY 4, CARS 3, and THE INCREDIBLES 2. 2003’s FINDING NEMO seemed highly unlikely to receive a sequel and stood perfectly fine by itself as one of the Pixar’s finest films. Still, here we are. Thirteen years after NEMO’s original theatrical run, we have FINDING DORY, which is a surprisingly solid second installment.

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A year has passed since the events of FINDING NEMO. Clownfish father Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence) are peacefully living in their sea anemone home, now with forgetful blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) as their neighbor. Things have settled down for Marlin and Nemo, but that suddenly changes when Dory is struck by a resurgence of long-lost memories. It turns out that Dory has a family and lives somewhere in the California area. Desperate to be reunited with her formerly forgotten parents, Dory makes her way across the ocean with Marlin and Nemo in tow. However, her adventure becomes complicated when an aquarium “saves” Dory and the two clownfish are forced to go on an improvised rescue mission.

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Like most sequels in any genre, FINDING DORY doesn’t quite measure up to the quality of its predecessor. The plot follows a story that’s noticeably similar to the first film. When Dory is “rescued,” Marlin even exclaims “Not again!” as if to call attention to this. However, this sequel avoids simply repeating old plot points by introducing new characters, changing the setting and bringing a different set of stakes. One fantastic tweak in the story are emotional flashbacks to Dory’s childhood. Besides baby Dory being Pixar’s cutest creation ever, the blasts from this blue fish’s past lay out certain details in advance and give the audience a deep desire to see Dory happily reunited with her parents. These flashbacks don’t feel forced or heavily loaded with exposition either. They contain the right mixture of clever dialogue, heartwarming humor, and utter cuteness.

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FINDING DORY surprisingly doesn’t stumble into the typical sequel pitfall of trying to reincorporate too many characters from the original film. That film was chock full of unforgettable fishy friends and each served a distinct purpose in the movie’s storyline. DORY has a few returning faces (the singing Stingray, surfer turtle Crush, and a great after-credits cameo), but it mainly relies on a new handful of underwater characters that are just as entertaining to watch and contribute to the plot in their own special ways. Surprisingly, these come in voices from MODERN FAMILY and IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA.

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Ed O’Neill is perfectly cast as Hank, a grumpy red octopus with a heart of gold. Ty Burrell lends his unique vocals to beluga whale Bailey and provides one of the funniest story arcs, while Kaitlin Olson voices gentile whale shark Destiny. Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy serve as Dory’s forgotten-but-now-remembered parents in the many flashbacks throughout. Meanwhile, Dominic Cooper and Idris Elba are hysterical as two territorial sea lions. Even though FINDING DORY only brings back the “Mine!” seagulls for a very brief moment, these sea lions officially made up for that and had me laughing every single time they were on the screen.

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My only complaint with FINDING DORY comes from its changed environment. While the first film was an adventure that spanned across half the ocean and packed in lots of excitement, a majority of this sequel takes place within a California aquarium. This smaller location offers new characters, new jokes, and a more contained set of emotional stakes, but definitely lessens the exciting adventure aspect of the story. FINDING DORY is a very different film than FINDING NEMO in this regard, yet still can’t help but feel like a slight downgrade due to the crazy amounts of danger that the fishy protagonists faced in the first film. The only hazards Dory, Marlin and Nemo come into contact with are aquarium procedures, disgruntled staff members, and one angry sea creature (which felt a tad lazy).

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This complaint is very small in the overall scheme of FINDING DORY. The animation is exactly what you’d expect from Pixar at this point, which is to say it looks amazing, colorful and vibrant. The writing is smart and engaging, even if the adventure aspect is lessened from the first film (which seemed like an insurmountable predecessor to begin with). The emotions are spot-on as Dory’s past is built upon through adorable, heart-warming/wrenching flashbacks. DORY’s non-linear storyline never once feels forced or dull either. FINDING DORY shows that Pixar can still crank out great films, even if those movies happen to be sequels (a feat that had only previously been seen in TOY STORY 2 and 3).

Grade: A-

THE MAN (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 23 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Language, Rude Dialogue and some Violence

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Directed by: Les Mayfield

Written by: Jim Piddock, Margaret Oberman & Stephen Carpenter

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Eugene Levy, Luke Goss, Miguel Ferrer, Susie Essman, Anthony Mackie & Gigi Rice

Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy are funny on their own, so someone might assume that THE MAN would get a few chuckles by combining the two into one movie. It’s a fish-out-of-water comedy with potential for clever, if not familiar, laughs. However, THE MAN just might be one of the lamest, laziest and most poorly written comedies to come out of the 2000’s. This film seems to be using a script that’s been collecting dust since the mid-80’s. Instead of simply being as generic as its title, THE MAN runs on a plethora of stale jokes and farts. Before getting into why this movie sucks as badly as it does, I’ll set up the premise.

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Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. Andy Fiddler is a dorky dental equipment salesman who’s visiting the city of Detroit to make an important speech at a sales convention. Agent Derrick Vann is a loose cannon cop who doesn’t play by the rules. Vann’s partner was recently discovered to be dirty and deceased (gunned down by a group of dangerous arms runners). Through a sheer coincidence, Andy gets mistaken for Vann in an undercover operation. This leads to Vann having to drag the reluctant, loud-mouthed Andy along for the investigation as he tries to capture these arms dealers. Wacky, unfunny hijinks ensue.

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Comedy is a hugely subjective genre. What might be hilarious to one person could be lame to someone else. This all being said, I suspect that THE MAN didn’t have many people rolling in the aisles at the movie theater or laughing out loud at home. These jokes have all been done before in countless other movies. We also get not one, but multiple fart jokes as Andy doesn’t do well with red meat. Meanwhile, the entire plot is an overly familiar mistaken identity/fish out of water story and mainly hinges on Eugene Levy. This recognizable performer is simply off his game as a bumbling goof who is far more annoying than he is funny. Some of his “highlights” include holding up an airport line to discuss a tongue scraper with a disinterested flight attendant, getting in a scuffle with a hobo over a paper bag, and getting shot in the butt. Also, I’d be remiss not to bring up those two terrible fart scenes again. The whole shtick with Levy’s Andy is that he’s constantly chatting off the ear of Samuel L. Jackson’s hard-boiled cop and driving him to his breaking point. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Jackson as Levy’s constant yammering was driving me close to shutting the movie off too.

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Samuel L. Jackson is his usual badass self and a stereotypical loose cannon cop at the same time. Some of his clichés include flipping out at his superiors and meeting informants for no other reason than to get exposition while making a public spectacle of chasing them down with his car. Honestly, Jackson seems bored and isn’t the biggest problem with this movie. Other cast members include Luke Goss as the villain (the only character to elicit a single chuckle out of me), a younger Anthony Mackie as the informant, and an underused Miguel Ferrer as Jackson’s superior.

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If THE MAN were simply a lame comedy, it might be a tad more tolerable than it actually is for trying to include a forced sentimental side halfway through. The screenplay (penned by three writers!) somehow tries to turn Eugene Levy’s Andy into a sympathetic do-gooder by the middle of the film in having him give life advice to Samuel L. Jackson. It goes further down this hole by trying to play off the two forming a friendship that isn’t convincing or believable, especially considering all the stuff they put each other through. On the technical side of things, the cinematography ranks with older network television procedurals and the soundtrack adds a “derpty derp” sense of blandness. Besides one chuckle that I got from the villain, the only positive thing I can say about THE MAN is that it has the decency to run at under 90 minutes. This film bombed at the box office as well as tanked with critics and audiences alike. It deserves to be forgotten in the annals of cinematic flops and I’m probably giving it more attention than I should be by writing this review.

Grade: D-

GOON (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Brutal Violence, Non-Stop Language, some Strong Sexual Content and Drug Use

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Directed by: Michael Dowse

Written by: Jay Baruchel & Evan Goldberg

Starring: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Marc-Andre Grondin, Kim Coates, Eugene Levy & Liev Schreiber

Combining the sports movie formula with a fight movie formula and throwing in a hefty amount of comedy, GOON is a movie that is far better than it had any indication of being. This is a pretty enjoyable flick that is worth kicking back and killing some time with. I watched it in the spur of the moment, having barely heard of it in the past and this is a nice little surprise. It’s far from a comedic masterpiece. Some problems can be found in the storytelling/pacing. One major compliment that can be given is that I can’t think of anything I’ve seen (off the top of my head) that’s exactly like GOON. There are major props to be given for that.

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Doug Glatt is a lovable guy, though he’s a bit slow in the head. He works as a bouncer at a bar and feels like the black sheep of his family due to this less-prestigious job. Both his overbearing father and his gay brother are well-respected doctors. During a night of relaxation and fun, Doug attends a hockey game with his best friend only to have a violent encounter with an aggravated player. His stint at the game earns Doug the attention of a hockey coach and soon enough, Doug is recruited as the resident enforcer for a hockey team. Earning a reputation and the title of Doug “The Thug,” on the rink for his bloody brawls, Doug quickly is elevated to the bigger leagues. This is where he tries to make a run at actually trying to play real hockey (to the dismay of his new coach) and attempts to form a friendship with a troubled teammate. This is all occurring while Doug’s parents frown upon his newfound career, Doug finds love in a troubled woman named Eva, and another famous hockey goon (Ross “The Boss”) waits on the horizon for a chance to fight.

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GOON is very entertaining. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. The script by Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel covers a lot of ground in 90 minutes, but maybe it’s a tad too much packed in? I felt like the film spent such a brief amount of time on some plot points that everything suffered a little bit as a result. The relationship between Doug and his family is limited to about three scenes. One of the more important subplots, Doug’s budding relationship with Eva, also felt too condensed. I bought the evolution of them as a possible couple. Seann William Scott and Alison Pill do have remarkable chemistry together, but the film needed to develop them together more. If the movie were about 20 to 30 minutes longer than it really would have made a difference in covering these interesting subplots. There were just so many threads points that needed more time.

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One aspect that wasn’t rushed in the slightest were the front-and-center sports elements. The really cool thing about GOON is that it plays out simultaneously as a sports flick and a fighting movie. There’s obviously a lot of humor thrown into the mix, but it’s all done with just enough believability to make the viewer root for Doug’s underdog team. The impending showdown between Doug “The Thug” and Ross “The Boss” is given some substantial weight. I really enjoyed the final scenes of the film which took a tad of an unusual turn for a sports-comedy, although (as my friend viewing the film with me noted) things could have been made even more unconventional and better for it.

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The film is very well-cast too. Besides the aforementioned Schreiber playing the main antagonist. Jay Baruchel (co-writer of this film) makes an appearance as Doug’s foul-mouthed best friend. This character was funny at points, but also got to a level of annoying (which may have been the intention). Alison Pill is pretty damn good as the romantic interest and given somewhat complex ground to cover seeing as her relationship is a complicated one. Eugene Levy makes a brief appearance as Doug’s father. I didn’t recognize most of the other cast members off-hand, but there are plenty of colorful characters (a pair of twins kept making me laugh as did an ill-tempered player with pictures of his mother plastered all over his helmet). Finally, there’s Seann William Scott. Known for playing ridiculous idiots, GOON marks a change for Scott. He’s still playing a moron, but he’s a lovable moron with good manners.

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As a whole, GOON is entertaining, despite some script points being undercut and rushed. The violence (of which there is plenty on the rink) is gloriously shot and done with a gleeful style to it. The entire film is laced with a charming sensibility. It’s a very enjoyable flick that winds up suffering from some pacing problems. Some of the parts of the script should either have been expanded or excised entirely. Still, GOON is one that I recommend as far as sports comedies are concerned.

Grade: B-