1977 - R - 122 Mins.
|Director: George Roy Hill
|Producer: Stephen Friedman, Robert Wunsch
|Written By: Nancy Dowd
|Starring: Paul Newman, Strother Martin, Lindsay Crouse, Michael Ontkean, M. Emmet Walsh, Melinda Dillon, Swoosie Kurtz
|Review by: Carl Langley
Far better than the gimpy flying duck films that Disney brought to life in the early 90’s (they even spawned an actual NHL team in Anaheim), George Roy Hill’s Slap Shot is funnier, more aware of its viewers, and contains more hockey solidity than its three followers combined. This movie is more appreciative of true hockey fans; the ones that stand up out of their recliner and scream at the television when the referee blows his call or when a barbarous fight is in progress – which makes up 98% of all hockey fans.
52 years old and I'm playing hockey with no helmet. Yes, I'm intoxicated.
There are two designated sports films: one that offers the dramatic underdog, come-from-behind tale (e.g. Rocky, The Natural, and the recently released Seabiscuit), and the comedy demeanor that usually features loads of bloopers, but brings victory at the end. Slap Shot falls into the latter category and is a prime example of how to film one. The hockey film is often hilarious, but never retains its jocularity on the ice, allowing it to roam into bars, onto buses, and most notably into Reggie’s (Paul Newman) home.
Reggie is a gray-haired veteran hockey player who fills in as player-coach for his team, the Chiefs. They are full of spirit but struggling for attention and their cantankerous owner (Strother Martin) is looking to get rid of them. Think of that nasty, vexatious bitch from Major League, which presumably where David S. Ward got his motivation for that character.
Way out of his league, Reggie and the Chiefs resort to violence on the ice, which in turn gains them highly imperative attention. This establishes fear in their opponents and the burden of winning is palliated.
Even though it is bogged down by its drama sidedish, what Slap Shot offers is a heart-warming, often vulgarly farcical, story that holds many memorable scenes and characters. Any fan of sport ultimately knows who the Hanson Brothers are; their reputation for brutality is the cornerstone of Slap Shot. The Hanson Brothers (who are brothers in real life as well) are easily the most memorable and borderline influential characters in the entire film. I can remember the triplets attaining contracts for advertisements and commercials based on their irrationally destructive characters. They were even the only ones to appear in its straight-to-video sequel that was released in 2002.
Arguably, the most shocking aspect of Slap Shot, besides witnessing a couple dozen bare bottoms drive by on a bus or the abundance of profanity spit from Paul Newman’s mouth, is the name of its director. George Roy Hill (who undoubtedly will be remembered for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting) steps out of his typical genre zone and goes over-the-top, replacing his ordinary daintiness with ruthlessness. It was shocking to hear that Hill was the creator behind it all. It was almost like hearing that Edward Zwick was the director of About Last Night.
The film also influenced future successful projects (the aforementioned Major League and The Mighty Ducks), which proves its ingenuity. The off-the-wall zaniness is what puts Slap Shot up top of the list – along with Bull Durham - for sports comedies, and one could argue sports films.