The standard-issue comedy hero in these post-Judd Apatow days is a wise-cracking wimp, someone who slouches on the couch playing video games all day, but who can fire off a barrage of ingenious insults with the speed of a seasoned improv comic.
It's a pleasant surprise, then, that while Goon is written by two of Apatow's regular collaborators, its muscle-bound leading man has nothing between his ears but concrete. To the embarrassment of his high-achieving family, Seann William Scott works as a night-club bouncer, but when an ice-hockey coach spots his ability to take a punch and dish out several in return, Scott becomes a rising star of Canada's minor leagues, even though he can barely lace up his skates: if Goon is to be believed, the sport consists of blood-soaked bare-knuckle boxing matches, with brief skating interludes while players are stretchered off the ice.
The thing that makes all the senseless violence palatable is that Goon's numbskulled hero is kind and courteous when he's not beating people to a pulp. Scott plays him as a childlike gentle giant, especially during his tongue-tied attempts to woo a promiscuous hockey fan, Alison Pill. ("You make me wanna stop sleeping with a bunch of guys," she tells him.) He's a sweet, sympathetic central character, even if the film is a ramshackle vehicle for him.
And ramshackle it is. Sometimes it's a lewd frat-boy swearathon, at other times it's an underdog movie about a team of misfits, and sometimes it's a sensitive drama about an outsider who doesn't feel at home anywhere except in a world where he's treated as a walking punchbag. When Scott has a small-hours heart-to-heart with Liev Shreiber, a veteran brawler who knows that he's skating towards the scrap heap, we get a taste of the great sports movie that might have been. But then it's back to the dopey comedy again. Still, Goon remains a likeable, unpretentious time-passer, thanks to its soft-hearted lunk of a hero. It's just a pity that, despite some glimmers of intelligence, the film isn't much brainier than he is.
Anyway, better the good-natured shambles of Goon than the lifeless precision of Mother and Child. Written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, the son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, it's one of those pseudo-intellectual ensemble dramas with numerous overlapping storylines which think they're profoundly significant just because they don't have a sense of humour.
Set in Los Angeles, the film stars Annette Bening as a care nurse who's emotionally frozen by the memory of the baby she gave up for adoption when she was 14. In another strand, Naomi Watts plays the daughter she's never met, now a coolly ambitious corporate lawyer who prefers not to connect with anyone, except physically with her boss, Samuel L Jackson. A third strand has Kerry Washington as an infertile married woman who meets a pregnant girl who may or may not grant her custody of her unborn child. There are a few stand-out scenes, but the pacing is so slow and the staging so static that it feels like a long, long wait between them. As sometimes happens when a director works from his own script, Garcia is so fixated on the portentous dialogue that he overlooks such minor matters as tension and style.
Nicholas Barber sees more of Michael Fassbender than he needs to in Steve McQueen's sex-addict drama, Shame
Silence, please, for black-and-white retro triumph The Artist, with French star Jean Dujardin channelling the bygone Hollywood greats ... If you prefer his funny ones, Woody Allen's comedies are out in force for a retrospective at London's BFI Southbank, throughout January.