SLAP SHOT (director: George Roy Hill; screenwriter: Nancy Dowd; cinematographer: Victor J. Kemper; editor: Dede Allen; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Paul Newman (Reggie Dunlop), Strother Martin (Joe McGrath), Michael Ontkean (Ned Braden), Jennifer Warren (Francine Dunlop), Lindsay Crouse (Lily Braden), Jerry Houser (“Killer” Carson), Brad Sullivan (Morris ‘Mo’ Wanchuk), Emmett Walsh (Dickie Dunn), Andrew Duncan (Jim Carr), Kathryn Walker (Anita McCambridge), Steve Carlson (Steve Hansen), Jeff Carlson (Jeff Hansen), Dave Hanson (Jack Hansen), Paul D’Amato (Tim McCracken); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Robert L. Crawford/Stephen Friedman/Robert J. Wunsch; Universal Pictures; 1977)
“Its moral pretenses left me cold.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
George Roy Hill(“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”/”The Great Waldo Pepper”/”The World According to Garp”) directs with tongue-in-cheek this sports film farce, shot before helmets were mandatory. In its broad comedy it exams violence in a sport that’s marketed as family entertainment, but remains ambivalent about the violence as it turns into a familiar sports film crowd-pleaser telling about underdogs beating the odds to survive–granted with atypical profanity, nudity and graphic cartoonish violence. The money shots that give the pic appeal are of rough-house ice tactics that bring back the crowds to a struggling minor league hockey team. As a hard-hitting satire on pro hockey’s violence, its moral pretenses left me cold.
Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) is the aging player-coach of the struggling Charlestown Chiefs, a minor-league team in a depressed Massachusetts mill town, where the hockey lifer finds out the mill fired 15,000 workers and surmises that means curtains for the hockey team. When three thuggish toy train playing youths, the Hansen brothers (Steve Carlson, Jeff Carlson and Dave Hanson), are brought in as replacements by the crafty old-time chief executive Joe McGrath ( Strother Martin), the team’s fortunes reverse at the gate and in the winning column, when they are employed as goons. The goon tactics are encouraged by the coach and are applauded by the fans, the shill announcer (Andrew Duncan) and the shill local sportswriter (Emmett Walsh). The coach does it so their undisclosed owner will sell the team for a profit to a buyer, who will move the team to possibly Florida. Even though that’s not true, that what coach convinces himself is true and what he tells the team. The rejuvenated team sparks Reggie’s personal life, as he thinks now he might reconcile with his attractive hair-dresser wife (Jennifer Warren). A dull subplot involves former Princeton star hockey player Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean) wanting to live out his dream of playing pro hockey but only without goon antics, as his pouting wife (Lindsay Crouse) hates the hockey environment and wants him to quit and get a respectable job fit for an Ivy League grad in a better location.
The irreverent screenplay of the manly sport is by a woman, Nancy Dowd, whose brother was a hockey player and acted as the film’s technical advisor. Too bad Ms. Dowd’s intentions to satirize hockey rowdyism and its integrity, ends up looking instead like a hymn to violence.
REVIEWED ON 12/31/2013 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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