Slap Shot (1977)

“We all know how to play hockey — just play it smart!”

Synopsis:
The coach (Paul Newman) of a failing New England hockey team encourages his players to employ violent tactics in an effort to revive attendance at games.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary’s review of this cult hockey film by director George Roy Hill is generally favorable. He notes that he’s glad it “doesn’t presume to attack today’s hockey/sports fan for demanding that violence be part of the game” given that “the movie itself aims to please viewers… by including much preposterously brutal sports action”. He argues that “the more violent, the funnier it is”, and notes that Nancy Dowd’s script (based on tape recordings made by her brother in his hockey team locker room) “received much attention because it contained more profanity, sexual content, and brutality than had ever been contained in a screenplay written by a woman”. He praises the “quirkiness of her characters” and the “unexpected ways in which they act and converse with one another”, and argues that “Newman gives one of his most interesting performances” (indeed, he nominates Newman as Best Actor in his Alternate Oscars book).

While I’ll admit to being mildly amused by some of the on-ice tactics employed by the “Hanson brothers” (fictional characters so beloved and infamous they actually have their own Wikipedia entry), I have a hard time sharing Peary’s overall admiration for the film. The “quirky” characters — Newman included — are largely unlikable and sloppily written, with Ivy Leaguer Michael Ontkean and his wife (Lindsay Crouse) particularly underused and poorly conceived. Meanwhile, the film’s reasonably intriguing central comedic premise — about a hockey team turning to brutal tactics as a means of financial survival — never goes anywhere interesting. Despite its status as a serious cult favorite (loyal viewers can actually buy gear based on the film), all-purpose film fanatics can feel free to skip this one.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A few mildly amusing sequences on the ice
  • Dede Allen’s impressive editing

Must See?
No. This one’s only a must for hockey fanatics.

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One Response to “Slap Shot (1977)”

  1. Not a must.

    I had reached that conclusion at the 3/4-mark. I will say a few things in its favor, tho. For example, it would probably be good on a bill with ‘North Dallas Forty’, even tho I’m a bigger fan of the latter film and consider it much more interesting as a sports film (and you know how I feel about sports films). Alas, as good as Newman (just about always) is, his character’s journey isn’t as compelling as Nolte’s. (Oddly, Newman apparently claimed this as his favorite of his films.)

    Though this didn’t ultimately alter my opinion of the film, the last 1/4 is the best: the twist involving Newman’s intention for his team. This section is particularly sharp and redeems the film a bit. So, I wouldn’t call ‘SS’ a waste of time for ffs; I would just hesitate to champion it.

    In lesser hands than those of director George Roy Hill, the overall frat-boy script could easily have brought the film down a few rungs. But GRH is a sly one and he plays the vulgarity with a knowing wink, spinning it in a way that often actually makes it funny.

    I admit to three particular fave bits: the ‘Lady of Spain’ joke, Melinda Dillon’s surprising monologue about lesbian activity among heterosexual women (as well as Newman’s relaxed reaction to her confession)…and Michael Ontkean’s striptease on ice (that’s joyous to me!).

    I saw this on its release. Didn’t mind sitting through it again now, but that’s about all.

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