For this week I chose another one of those old movies that I actually did see when I had much younger eyes. I know I must’ve watched this movie when I was somewhere between the ages of, say, nine and thirteen, but I really don’t remember. The only recollections I really had of this movie were that Paul Newman seemed awesome (I don’t think I’d seen him in anything else by that point) and that the Hanson brothers were outrageously amusing. I’m not sure, but now that I think about it, it’s also possible that I saw this movie as a nice antidote to The Mighty Ducks, which would’ve come out right around that time (and which I found loathsome).
Watching Slap Shot again recently, after having seen countless sports movies in the interim that all seem to chronicle the rise or return of an underdog team to its deserved or former glory, I must say that the plot no longer felt nearly as compelling as it might have the first time I watched this one. Still, a familiar or formulaic plot need not be an excuse not to enjoy a movie, in my opinion, especially when the movie provides some laughs, which Slap Shot does.
The plot of this movie basically revolves around the impending closure or sale a minor league hockey team, the Charlestown Chiefs, coached by a former star player, Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman). In the first game scene, it’s made clear that the team has been doing pretty badly, and getting heckled shamelessly by the few fans in the audience. One of the few good players on the team is #10, Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean). As the story unfolds, we learn that the town’s mill is shutting down, displacing tons of blue-collar workers. We also learn that Braden’s marriage is getting rocky and the coach’s marriage hasn’t been solvent for years, as everyone knows that truly dedicated athletes are lone wolves, and can’t be caged. For these guys, hockey is life. And with such a shitty team, life is shitty.
The Hanson brothers, three new players on the team who have the emotional and intellectual maturity of eleven-year olds (as evidenced by the fact that the suitcases they bring to town are filled with toys), end up providing a glimmer of hope for the ill-fated Chiefs. Coach quickly discovers that these guys are sadistic maniacs on the ice, and that hockey audiences have an unquenchable thirst for blood and mayhem. (That he might not have known this already sorta makes me skeptical of whether he’d ever actually been to a hockey game prior to coaching the Chiefs.)
When the Hanson brothers’ antics start drawing huge turnouts for the games and the Chiefs even start racking up some wins, it starts to look like there might be a chance of saving the team. Whether that means being sold to some old folks community down in Florida or some other possibility isn’t quite clear, but Coach really gets his hopes up and thrives on the attention generated by his team’s complete disregard for order and the sanctity of human life.
The movie also has some secondary plot lines dealing with Ned’s and Coach Reg’s special lady friends, but those were pretty dull. This is a sports movie, dammit, stop trying to inject the narrative with things about people relating to one another! Although, as with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I was a little surprised by the amount of uninterrupted booby footage. There does happen to be a relationship, though, between the similarities in the challenges these men face with their significant others and the growing disparities in how they have in how they think the Chiefs should be playing.
So will the team survive? Will they straighten up their act and win a straight game of hockey, or will they continue to play rough and dirty? And will Coach Reg and Ned manage to steer each other right with regard to their romantic and ideological disagreements? Watch the movie and find out.
One of the interesting things that Wikipedia taught me about the movie is just how closely modeled after real-life events the film was. Even more fascinating than that, though, the Hanson Brothers are a real trio of hockey-playing brothers, two of whom actually played in the film. How’s that for art imitating life?