Monday, June 9, 2014

Slap Shot - 1977

"Slap Shot" - 1977
Dir. by George Roy Hill - 2 hrs. 3 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

My second thought, after watching "Slap Shot," was that this is where "Major League" came from.  Of course, my first thought was that, since I'd been laughing for about two hours straight, that it was a shame I'd never watched "Slap Shot" before.  And also, looking up director George Roy Hill's career credits, that there's some doozies in there that I also haven't seen yet.  It's not like I'd been resistant to "Slap Shot," I'm not really a hockey fan but I'm not against it either.  And I'd heard of the Hanson Brothers, way before their music career.

In the world of minor league hockey, it's not crazy to have a grey-haired player/coach in charge of things.  For the Charlestown Chiefs, that would be Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman), who is hustled onto TV and radio to try to drum up ticket sales for his floundering team.  His players are forced into modelling for a local department store's fashion show, which they hate, also to drum up ticket sales.  Fact is, the Chiefs aren't any good, and they're in cost-cutting mode, selling off spare equipment and bringing in cheaper players, like the Hanson brothers.  They're a trio of coke-bottle glass-wearing long hairs who travel with toy cars and guzzle soda, and instantly repeat whatever Reg tells them.  On a road trip, Reg figures out that his team is going to be folding at the end of the year, putting everyone out of work.  And, of course, there's the girl that Reg is trying to win back, a local hairstylist named Francine (Jennifer Warren).  When thing appear bleak, the Hanson brothers are finally unleashed on the ice, where their unbelievably violent style of play turns the season around.

I'm partial to these kinds of films - the ragged bunch of idiots trying to survive in a world that doesn't care about them one way or another.  It's even better when it's a sports film, even if it's not a sport that I really pay attention to.  That's not a knock on hockey, hockey just happens to run at the same time as basketball, and I can never seem to find enough time to follow both.  And these kinds of films are even better when they're violent, ragged, and obscene.  Any sports movie made currently would be trading off their access to the real deal for getting scrubbed clean by corporate concerns.  And let me be clear, "Slap Shot" does not want to sell you skates, or sticks, or sweaters.  The men in this movie want to drink, fight, get laid, and maybe play some straight-up hockey in between all of that.  But only if there's time, and only if they feel like it.  The corporatization of sport in the ensuing years actually serves to amplify the humor in films like this.

Derrick Rose wants to sell you shoes, but has no personality or healthy knee.

For example, you'll have to get used to watching a bunch of people play hockey without helmets.  Without helmets!  There's blood, constant fighting, raw taunting of one another... all the stuff people used to love about hockey.  And that's all before we even get to see the Hanson brothers in action.  Their collective on-ice debut is one of the funniest things I've ever seen in my life; pure mayhem and chaos.  These brothers are legendary for a reason.  They're also egged on by a sort-of amoral coach, Reg Dunlop.  I've never been into Paul Newman either - by the time I started watching films, he was past his movie-star days.  I never thought badly of him, but I knew him about as well for his organic Oreo knock-offs and salad dressings as I did for movies like "The Hudsucker Proxy."  He's so engaged and different from the other roles that I've seen him in here that it makes me curious about his other prime-era work.  Even "Cool Hand Luke," even though it's unquestionably a great film, didn't make me curious about Newman's other work.

Aside from the riotous humor of the hockey itself, there's a good story (several of them, actually) being told here.  There's the battle to keep the Chiefs from folding, there's a pair of estranged lover stories, there's the story of the town itself.  There's a lot going on, even though the surface of the movie is that of a bunch of dim-witted hockey players and their season.  And not all of it goes the way you'd want it to.  The key is that Reg, in particular, seems to know how to make things work, even if he doesn't know why it's going to work.  It's a skill that's kept him in hockey for far past his expiration date, and we get to see it on display outside of hockey, as well.

By the time we get to the final game, and the good guys have nothing left to lose, you know they're going to go out their way, which is the same way they got that far in the first place.  The final game is just as great as the ones that preceded it, and "Slap Shot" pulls off a wall-to-wall great comedy.  As frustrating as it is that I hadn't seen it before, I'm comfortable knowing that I'm probably going to end up watching "Slap Shot" another half-dozen times before I call it a day.  

4.5 / 5 - Streaming

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