Thursday, January 15, 2009

Slap Shot



Hey it's winter, let's watch a hockey movie! Slap Shot stars Paul Newman as a coach of a bunch of hockey bums who always lose, in a mill town whose mill will be closing. So the team knows nothing matters and they'll be shut down at the end of the season, and they go all out to win at any cost and be entertaining as hell for the fans. For hockey fans it's a classic, and for the rest of us, it's still good fun. The Hanson Brothers- three goons in coke-bottle thick horn rim glasses- and Melinda Dillon from A Christmas Story make it unforgettable.
We meet the Chiefs at a home game against a team with a drunken player and they still manage to lose. The fans get more fun out of cursing them out than watching them play. Newman plays Reg Dunlop, an aging hockey star leading the team under the bumbling manager Joe McGrath (Strother Martin, looking completely different than he did in Cool Hand Luke!). When he hears the town mill will be closing, he decides to go out with a bang- he tells the team that someone in Florida wants to buy them, and they have to play their hearts out. But McGrath has his own idea, when he picks up the rowdy Hanson Brothers for the team. They're your typical hockey kids- hockey hair, roughneck players that Reg meets when they're bashing the hell out of a Coke machine for stealing a quarter.
He sees them making brass knuckles out of aluminum foil under their gloves, and benches them for the season until a series of fouls force them onto the ice. They get their revenge on the other team by slamming, sticking and punching their way to victory, and the crowd loves it, so Reg decides to play things the Hanson Brothers way. He sleeps with an opposing goalie's ex, played by Melinda Dillon, to get some tips on how to intimidate him. There's a surprisingly long topless scene were she talks to him in bed.

Now, not only is it freaky seeing Mom from A Christmas Story naked, but Melinda has nipples you can hang beach towels on. Paul Newman might have gotten a foul for high sticking, but she could get one for eye gouging. But aside from the boobies, she has that same easy manner that made her performance in the Christmas classic so memorable. Seeing it now is like seeing Mom's wild youth. Anyway, Reg's plan works and he uses secrets gleaned from this dangerous liaison to taunt the goalie into a rage that has him dive into the penalty box to get at him.
Reg and the Hanson Brothers' antics get so many fans whipped up about the team that even he begins to believe his bullshit story about a sale. Some towns welcome them, others picket them- and get mooned for their trouble. Finally, for their championship game, the opposing team puts together a gang of roughneck rowdies so brutal that even the Chiefs are worried. Their games have gone too far. Reg wants everyone to play clean, old school hockey against the brutes... but can they win? or even survive?
Slap Shot is a true classic, hell there's even a band named after the Hanson Brothers who sing about hockey and girls and beating people up. Canadian punkers NoMeansNo have a side band, so it's actually good. It's one of Paul Newman's best, because it's a self-effacing role- he's playing an athlete past his prime, with his usual grin, glint in his eye, and biting sense of humor. And for hockey fans this movie is a Communion wafer that must be taken regularly, lest you be forced to confess in the penalty box.


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