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Big screen hockey Goon returns for sequel that tugs heartstrings while busting heads

Now in theatres, Last of the Enforcers teams triple-threat Baruchel and Hobo with a Shotgun creator Eisener.

Apart from its status as the sequel to one of the most successful Canadian comedies in recent memory, Goon: Last of the Enforcers will earn its place in this country's film history as the project that first united the minds behind Doug Glatt, the sweet-natured Halifax Highlander with a hockey stick, and Hobo With a Shotgun.

Taking over the directorial reins for the sequel after writing and appearing in the original, Jay Baruchel needed to recruit some like-minded players for his team to help put the film together. As a fan of Hobo, the star of Judd Apatow's Undeclared and Seth Rogan's This Is the End, sought out Dartmouth filmmaker Jason Eisener, who took a year off from his own career to help shape this latest chapter in the saga of the two-fisted hockey heavy with a heart of gold.

Goon: Last of the Enforcers opens across Canada this weekend, and Baruchel needed someone in the editing room who could handle the violence on the ice as well as the heartache Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) feels at home with his pregnant wife Eva (Alison Pill). But as the Montreal-raised director explains, he had an ulterior motive: to build a Canadian dream team for future projects, and to slow down the brain drain to the movie business south of the border.

"I think one of the reasons Jason and I bonded is because our film nerdiness is matched only by our patriotism," Baruchel says over ice-cream treats with Eisener at Johnny's Snack Bar, across from the Halifax Forum, featured prominently in the film.

"And that's not a turn-of-phrase or hyperbole, it's legitimate. There is a bit of civic duty in everything we do."

Since Hobo with a Shotgun, Eisener has been working behind the scenes on fast-paced genre films like Southbound, Turbo Kid and Death Note. Signing on as editor for the latest entry in a series with global recognition wasn't just a great job opportunity, it was also a chance to work with a kindred spirit like Baruchel and the potential for future projects.

"Every day that we were cutting the movie at Jay's home in Toronto, he'd start the day by blasting bagpipe music," Eisener says over a strawberry milkshake. "He'd give me and assistant editor Andrew Gordon Macpherson — who I went to NSCC with, he's from Truro — these rousing speeches about how we've got to do this for our country, and that was awesome.

"He was preaching to us to be proud of Canadian cinema and to really give it for this movie. It was almost like having a hockey coach in the editing room, keeping you pumped up and confident."

As co-writer (with creative partner Jesse Chabot), director and cast member, returning as Doug's obnoxious pal Pat, Baruchel has a lot on his plate with Goon: Last of the Enforcers. The film is set once again in Halifax but, apart from a few exteriors of the Forum and Scotiabank Centre, it was shot on the ice and streets of Barrie and Hamilton, Ont.

At least that's closer than the first film's Winnipeg locations, and more convenient for its director, who takes over from original Goon helmsman Michael Dowse (Fubar, The F Word). Although most of the original cast returns, including teammate Marc-André Grondin and former nemesis Liev Schreiber, Dowse had other projects on the go, including the surreal FXX TV series Man Seeking Woman, also starring Baruchel.

"We built that script for Dowse to direct, he is our general and it was 'Let's get the band back together,' " says Baruchel. "He's one of my mentors, and I'll follow that man to the gates of Hell. When circumstances dictated that he couldn't return, I'd be lying if I said that I hadn't already mapped out the film in my head.

"I'm not so arrogant to suggest myself, but both Seann and Marc-Andre independently said, 'Well, maybe it should be you.' And I think the general thinking was that whoever else we'd get would be a high-qualified stranger, as opposed to someone who was there the whole time."

Having learned his craft from being on film sets since the age of 12, Baruchel has long had a feel for the mechanics of what makes a movie tick, and eventually directed a 2014 episode of Trailer Park Boys.

"Being on set is probably the best film school on Earth. I was always in acting because I love movies, not the other way around," he says, interjecting "Holy Moses!" as a giant banana split arrives at the table.

After writing the first instalment, and spending five years honing the script for the second, he took the job of crafting another successful hockey comedy very seriously.

"There is no merit in making a 6/10 cousin to Goon," he says, gesturing with his spoon for emphasis. "The first movie connected to people in a way that you can't ever hope. We were very proud of the movie, we thought it deserved that audience, but we weren't being assholes in assuming it would hit in the way that it did.

"And the last five or six years haven't diminished or dampened it; it's only made the cult of it even stronger. So our paramount concern was creating the flick that our fans and our characters deserved, which is why it took so long to figure out the story."

The story this time around is one of growing up and learning to face responsibility, for which Doug Glatt is not prepared. A brutal assault by mad-dog opponent Anders Cain (played as dim-but-feral by Wyatt Russell) leaves Doug unable to swing his right arm, while the pounding his head takes doesn't do him any favours either.

The love story between Doug and Eva has now deepened to the point where they're going to be parents, and she needs him to be there for her and their unborn child. Doug hates to leave hockey behind, even though his circumstances dictate that he has to do just that. Still, he can't resist training with greying enforcer Ross Rhea (Schreiber) to learn how to punch with his left and bring glory back to the Halifax Highlanders.

The trick of the film is balancing the ups and downs of the relationship with the brutal action on the ice, while keeping it funny at the same time. Baruchel was determined to not just make the same movie, with room for character growth and some truthful scenes between Doug and Eva, where both are right in their own way, and neither character is diminished by the desires of the other.

The script is also careful to avoid storytelling clichés, like dreaming up some phony conflict like giving Eva a music career that she wants to pursue. It's not A Star Is Born on Ice.

"Not everybody has a calling," the director explains. "Most people go through their lives doing the best they can, but not everyone has a great ambition, and that's got to sting when you're with someone who does.

"Meanwhile, Doug is following his calling, but it's beating the living shit out of him, and it's killing him. That's heartbreaking in and of itself, when the one spot that he was meant to be in leads to the revelation that he can't do it forever. And I thought that was pretty good material to mine a story from."

The scenes where Doug turns his back on hockey and tries to settle into an ordinary life in insurance sales — with hilarious support from Jason Jones as his clueless colleague — resonated with Eisener. As Doug feels emasculated without his stick and his skates, he feels the same way if he didn't have access to a camera and editing suite.

"I really connected to that line that Marc-André as Xavier has when they're in the bar, talking about what they would do if they weren't playing hockey," says Eisener. "And he says he wouldn't know how to do anything else, he's put everything into this.

"I remember being in high school, telling people I wanted to be a filmmaker, and they kept saying you should have a backup plan, and go to a school to learn something else, and I refused to give myself any other option. This had to be it. I couldn't do anything else."

Judging by Baruchel's and Eisener's conversation, there will be other opportunities for collaboration down the road.

"We have a lot planned for the future," says the latter, while the former is hoping to find more Canadian creatives willing to embrace the maverick Canuck spirit of artists like David Cronenberg and Kids in the Hall.

"We're hoping to make it official. My writing partner Michael and Jason and I are hoping to launch a production company with a very specific brand and a very specific mandate to make commercial and, for lack of a better term, American-style films that are definitively Canadian and have heart and teeth," says Baruchel.

"These bloated $300-million corporate endeavours like Avengers are made while answering to a million masters. They can do shit we can't do, crash a spaceship into the Statue of Liberty and so on, and we can't do that. But because they cost so much, they can never be harder than PG-13, they can never be as truthful and handmade and dirty and punk as we can go, they can't fight as hard as we can. ... There are advantages to being in the underclass and having fewer resources. I've been telling everyone we want to put Iron Man in a coma."

"We want to compete," adds Eisener.

Now there's the right Halifax Highlanders spirit.


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Stephen Cooke

About the Author: Stephen Cooke

Stephen Cooke is an award-winning arts journalist who's been covering the local, regional and national scene for over 25 years.
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