“Well, um, icing happen when the puck come down, bang, you know, before the other guys, nobody there, you know? My arm go comes up, then the game stop, then start up.”
The Scoop: 1977 R, Directed by George Roy Hill and starring Paul Newman, Strother Martin and Michael Ontkean
Tagline: Slap Shot out slap…out swears…out laughs…
Summary Capsule: When his hockey team is being shut down, a washed-up player/coach must find a way to save their franchise, possibly through the use of three violent, mentally questionable brothers. Lying is apparently an excellent tactic too.
Drew’s rating: It’s a whole movie full of people who talk like Sue and PoolMan. Scared yet?
Drew’s review: You know how there are some movies that you hear really good things about and make a mental note to watch soon? And “soon” gives way to “before long,” which turns into “someday,” but it’s always lurking somewhere in the back of your mind? And then one day an opportunity presents itself, you finally hunker down and watch that sucker… and two hours later, you find yourself sitting there with a frown, thinking “That was it?”
Welcome to Slap Shot.
The Charlestown Chiefs, a minor league hockey team led by player/coach Reggie Dunlap (Paul Newman), have a problem. Not exactly drawing huge crowds to begin with, they’re confronted by the local steel mill closing, laying off hundreds of workers and virtually guaranteeing the team will fold due to low attendance. It falls on Reg’s shoulders to find a way to save his teammates and himself; unfortunately, Reg’s only appreciable skill, other than being old and wearing horrible clothes, is lying. With the team convinced that a group of nonexistent retirees is planning to buy them and move the team to Florida (Really?), the Chiefs’ only hope of salvation lies with new players the Hanson brothers, who have a skill of their own: beating the %*#$ out of anything that moves. The Hansons’ violent style of play begins yielding victories and drawing fans back in droves, but Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean) and Reg would rather win through clean play and superior tactics. Hey, good luck with that.
You can always tell when a movie was made in the ’70s, can’t you? The picture is all grainy, there’s little to no actual plot, all the bars have pinball machines and those little tiny beer glasses, and nobody seems bothered by the hairstyles exploding around them. My inherent mistrust of the decade that gave us disco fever and pet rocks aside, it’s not like there haven’t been late ’70s/early ’80s films with unlikable characters and minimalist storylines that I’ve enjoyed — Animal House and Caddyshack spring to mind. Somehow, though, Slap Shot just never seems to click the way those movies do. There’s a couple genuinely funny parts, but not enough; and while you have to love a sport where drinking is an integral part of the training regimen, at no point in the film does one feel the slightest bit of empathy for the players who are about to lose their jobs… and in a movie with that as the central conflict, that’s a problem.
Oh, there’s an inane subplot you won’t care about with Reg trying to hold on to his estranged wife, who recently decided she’s a lesbian but continues sleeping with him. (Reg, that’s what we call “win/win,” buddy.) Of course, he’s also pursuing one of his players’ wives, who despite being attractive (by disco standards, anyway) and throwing herself at her husband, is getting no attention from him. It’s boring and stupid, but seems to be a running theme of 70s movies – even the heroes are cheating on each other and having sex with everything that isn’t nailed down. It does lead to an extended topless scene (not Paul Newman, thankfully), so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much… but, well, I guess I am anyway. Whoops.
Gene Siskel once said that his greatest regret as a critic was giving a mediocre review to Slap Shot when it first came out, as he came to appreciate it as a classic in later years. I won’t speak ill of the dead, but allow me to venture that ol’ Gene had it right the first time. Who knows, maybe repeated viewings bring out the funny in a way the first time just didn’t… the film certainly has a devoted, if inexplicable following. But when it comes down to it, the fact is there’s no other hockey movie — Miracle, Mystery, Alaska, any Mighty Ducks film – that I wouldn’t rather watch than see Slap Shot again.
Okay, maybe D3.
- Slap Shot is loosely based on an actual minor league hockey team, the Johnstown Jets. Director Nancy Dowd’s brother Ned played for them, as did the Carlson/Hanson brothers, and many of their players were used as extras in the film. Several of the incidents in the movie were inspired by real events, such as when Jeff Carlson was hit in the face by a cup of ice thrown by a fan, upon which he and his brothers went into the stands after the fan and were arrested.
- Ah, nickel beer night and casual sex: the two things about the 70s that didn’t suck.
- Observant viewers may notice many of the players not wearing helmets. At the time Slap Shot was made, only goalies were required to wear helmets; for everyone else they were optional.
- The Hanson brothers are all actual professional hockey players. The parts were originally scripted for brothers Jack, Jeff, and Steve Carlson, all players for the Johnstown Jets minor league team. However, Jack was called up to the majors before filming began, so his role was filled by fellow Jets player David Hanson.
- “Ogie” Oglethorpe is played by Ned Dowd, brother of director Nancy Dowd.
Carr: Hi, Jim Carr again. Uh, Denis, uh, I know that some in our audience don’t know the finer points of hockey. Uh, could you tell them, for example, what is icing?
Lemieux: Well, um, icing happen when the puck come down, bang, you know, before the other guys, nobody there, you know? My arm go comes up, then the game stop, then start up.
Carr: Mmm-hmm, I see. What is high sticking?
Lemieux: High sticking happen when uh, the guy take the stick, you know, and he go like dat, you know, you don’t do that.
Carr: You don’t do that.
Lemieux: Oh no, never, never.
Reggie: How’s it goin’, Nick?
Brophy: I’m drunk.
Brophy: I’m not [kiddin’] you. Got stinkin’ ‘faced on the bus, Louise left me and that son-of-a-[gun] over there keeps playin’ me when he knows I’m ‘faced.
Reggie: Jeez, I’m really sorry.
Brophy: Anybody throws me against the boards, I’m gonna piss all over myself.
Shirley: Johnny always says you can just drink so much and screw so much.
McGrath: Good crowd out there tonight, boys, let’s really try to win this one!
Braden: You have to hand it to the old bastard, he’s highly original.
Ahern: That man traveled 15 hours by bus to say that?
Broadcaster: The fans are standing up to them! The security guards are standing up to them! The peanut vendors are standing up to them! And by golly, if I could get down there, I’d be standing up to them!
Shirley: I only drink during the afternoon. Or before a game. Or when Johnny’s away.
Reggie: Do you remember, uh, I went up to your room afterwards and you were dressed in chick’s clothes?
Reggie: Yeah, you had on this black bra with tassels… you were dancing in front of a mirror with this kind of zebra skin jockstrap.
Reggie: Do you remember how uh, how I screamed at you when you started comin’ on to me, and I just said, “Jeez, stop it, Joe, I’m ashamed of ya.”
McGrath: Damn you.
Reggie: I wanted to tell you I’ve forgotten the whole thing. Years have passed, now I’m sexually liberated, I don’t care who’s gay no more. I mean, who cares? It’s natural, it’s all around us. [pause] Who’s the owner, Joe?
Reggie: I am placing a personal bounty on the head of Tim McCracken – he’s the coach and chief punk on that Syracuse team.
Radio Announcer: A… a bounty?
Reggie: Yeah- a hundred bucks of my own money for the first of my men that really nails that creep.
Jim Carr: Oh, this young man has had a very trying rookie season, with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country’s refusal to accept him, well, I guess that’s more than most 21-year-olds can handle. Number six, “Ogie” Oglethorpe.
If You Liked This Movie, Try These:
- Mystery, Alaska
- Varsity Blues