Monday, February 19, 2024

Sports Watch: Slap Shot (1977)

Watched:  02/18/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director:  George Roy Hill

Slap Shot (1977) is one of those movies that just gets repeatedly referenced and is a sort of rite-of-passage film for a lot of folks, especially big sports fans.  I've been mildly curious about the movie for a long time, but as someone who grew up in Texas, which means know exactly nothing about hockey, it just didn't connect for me before to watch the thing.  

But, the movie came up as I was sorting through back-issue bins at my local comic shop, Austin Books, as the manager is a huge film nerd and the owner is a sports buff (and I think enjoys that I am not a person who says "sportsball" who shops there).*

What I knew was the movie starred Paul Newman, Michael Ontkean and three guys who weren't pro actors who everyone talked about playing three weirdo brothers, the Hansons.  And that was about it.  Some things I could infer were that it was from that mid-70's period where it became a bit trendy in movies to make it feel like it was shot on-location and live in a bar with everyone talking.  And, to be honest, it is not to my taste, Robert Altman.  

This isn't a small, indie movie.  It doesn't just star Paul Newman, it's directed by George Roy Hill, who has a terrific filmography prior to this movie and would continue to do so, making mostly dramas and melodramas.  And, I'd argue, this one skates between comedy and melodrama pretty well.  But it's also part of a trend of the 1970's to make movies about working-class folks, that brought us sports movies like Kansas City Bomber and innumerable movies about cars and car racing.

There's a lot of drinking of beer, going to shitty bars, enjoying one another's company, swearing, and incompetent bosses.  And wood paneling.

In Slap Shot, a small-league hockey team from Massachusetts is having another losing season, coached by player/ coach Newman - probably 10-15 years too old to still be playing, but with no idea how to do anything else.  The team is likely to fold already when the factory - the only major employer in town - gets set to shut down, which should drive a decline in the anemic ticket sales and kill the team.

With the arrival of three goons from an even worse league, Newman sets about driving interest in the team by floating a rumor of a sale and then setting the Hanson Brothers loose to wreak havoc on the ice - turning hockey into pro-wrestling.  And it works.  They become local heroes and ticket sales go through the roof.

I was assured the movie was a laugh-a-minute, but I'm not sure it was.  At least to me as an adult in 2024.  Maybe if I'd seen it as a kid when the rampant homophobia in the film used for punchlines (as often was in the films of the 70's - 90') wouldn't have landed so badly.  But it's not really until the Hanson Brothers get playing time that the movie really takes off.  

It's very much a movie that watches without judging, but it also is sometimes tough to get who is who and who is sleeping with who (there are wives, girlfriends, etc... as supporting players) and why anything matters.  But part of the comedy is that this is just the messy, small-town world these players are living in.  And that's a YMMV proposition.

The cast has lots of faces and names to recognize.  Early Michael Ontkean, M. Emmet Walsh as a reporter.  A baby-faced Swoozie Kurtz plays a long-suffering wife of a player.   Melinda Dillon appears as someone's wife Newman is bedding.  And there's other people I could name, but you'd need to see their face to say "I know that guy!", which you would if you watched movies in the 70's and 80's.

The back 2/3rds the movie really does take off, and I did laugh.  It's got some great stuff once the team is underway.  I'm just not sure I like hockey enough or something to have really been that into it.

I'm glad I can check this one off, and I enjoyed parts of it.  Newman is great in it, but he's always great.  I just don't know if I'm the guy who will recommend it as a great sports flick.

*I am not sure I wowed them with my mention of League of Their Own as maybe my favorite sports movie,** but I stand by my selection as it least in my top 5, but I'd never previously considered the category and need to ponder it further.  

**say what you will, but Geena Davis

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