Friday, December 28, 2012

My Favorite Era: Slap Shot (1977)

Along with The Bad News Bears, Slap Shot set the template for raunchy sports comedies in the 80's and 90's: A down on their luck bunch of flakes, losers and wackos (with some capable guys thrown in for texture), usually led by a crusty coach against an opposing team of complete and total jerks.  Sometimes they'd win, sometimes not but they would always do things their way.

In Slap Shot the sport is hockey; the team (a minor league team called the Chiefs) is led by Paul Newman in one of his best performances (to say nothing of underrated) and the team goes from the cellar to the top by way of embracing the inherent violence and mayhem, of the sport.  Let's take a closer look.
  • The film is brilliantly directed by George Roy Hill who also teamed with Newman for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.  Equally spot on is the script by Nancy Dowd.  Fresh, funny and vulgar it's one of the best written sports films.
  • The first scene is rather clever in that it gives the viewer a few hockey terms that pop up, even more clever is that all the moves referenced are dirty.
  • I also have to love the late seventies hairstyles on display.  Good lord, huge mutton chops and white guys with Afros.  Classic.
  • The first game sets things up nicely.  You know your team is down and out when even doing something right prompts jeers from your fans.
  • Strother Martin is fantastic as the amazingly cheap owner who makes his players appear in fashion shows in order to drum up publicity.
  • Performances are uniformly excellent with Newman of course turning in a great, funny, likable performance.  Michael Ontkean is also good (though the character is a little annoying) as Ned Braden, the team's star player who is also the obligatory "square guy who learns to let his hair down a little".
  • The comic highlight though is the presence of The Hanson Brothers: three siblings who are hockey goons in the most hilariously violent and over the top sense of the term.  I love that the movie puts forth the notion that the key to success is winning through pulverizing violence.
  • Given that this is a 70's film, there is more of an emphasis on character and story than gags and the comedy comes out of that.  Works damn well too.
  • Newman's behind the scenes wheeling and dealing to keep the team afloat is amusing, it helps to have the great character actor M. Emmett Walsh on-hand as the reporter he uses.
  • If there's anything I can complain about, it's the pacing.  The film runs a little over two hours and probably could lose ten minutes or so without hurting things much.  More hockey and less off the clock stuff would improve things a little.
  • You gotta love a movie that has the game won after the star player does a striptease.
Minor pacing issues aside, Slap Shot is an entertaining, funny comedy with solid performances, some  bone crushing violence and a nice, likable feel to it.  It's one of the best sports movies of all time.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.