Sports comedies are probably one of the most enjoyable genres Hollywood has to offer. There’s just something funny about seeing overpaid athletes look like idiots on screen, even if they do win “the big game.” The year 1977 not only brought us “Star Wars,” but a little hockey movie called “Slap Shot.” It was probably a lot funnier back then.
Minor league hockey is yet another struggling aspect in the town of Charlestown. Their Chiefs are awful, headed by a player/coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman). After hearing a rumor that the team could be sold to some new owners in Florida, Reggie decides to up the violence factor to draw the big crowds. This new attitude quickly sends the Chiefs on a massive winning streak as they begin their quest to take home the title, but the cost may be too much.
There is one reason, and one reason only, that “Slap Shot” is a classic. Numbers 16, 17, and 18: The Hanson Brothers. Without these guys (all actual hockey players), this movie would have nothing going for it. There is an agonizing pace here, causing the movie to run just over two hours. Many moments could have been trimmed, cut, and left on the floor to speed things up.
Most of comedy is meant for shock value, but nearly 30 years later, it’s not very offensive. Since it relies so heavily on four-letter words, this isn’t even remotely funny unless it’s entirely uncut (don’t even try to watch it on standard cable). That’s a pure sign that this movie has very little to offer.
But then the Hansons hit the ice and things pick up. They get most of the enjoyable lines and take part in a fight that seems awfully familiar to a recent NBA incident. Nearly every moment these three players are on screen is pure comedy joy. It’s really a shame you can’t say that for anyone else.
Paul Newman takes the lead, but just seems lost with a confusing script. So the team is moving to Florida or not? His multiple romances just drag this one down another notch and they never really amount to anything. The entire second half becomes almost entirely character driven, losing focus on what the movie is trying to be – a comedy.
Finally, the film ends with one of the most awful, ill-conceived, incoherent, and ridiculous endings in the history of modern movies. It leaves such a bad taste in your mouth, that even if the movie were great up until that point (it’s not), you would still leave utterly disappointed. Minor credit is due for not taking the cheap way out with the usual last second goal, but this is just flat out stupid. (** out of *****)
This is “Slap Shot’s” second appearance on DVD, this latest disc released to celebrate the 25th anniversary. The print used is clean with very minor damage, but the transfer has major trouble with the black levels. Seriously inconsistent, the movie takes on a brown hue during a few scenes where it should be a nice, deep black. Grain heavily obscures detail in the majority of scenes, though the on-ice action remains pretty clean, aided by strong color. That’s the only positive in a pretty weak effort. (***)
Leading the way is an awful 2.0 mono track. The audio is severely muffled, at times making some lines impossible to hear without the assistance of subtitles. The volume fluctuates on a regular basis making basic conversations sound like shouting matches. Crowd noise has a scratchy quality all its own. (**)
Making the movie slightly more tolerable is a commentary with the memorable Hansons. The movie made celebrities out of them and they have a great time here in character (and occasionally out). “Puck Talk with the Hansons” is basically what it says it is. The three “brothers” (only two of them are real life brothers, their real third member dropped out just before filming to actually play hockey) talk about the shoot, how they came to be in the movie, and other various relevant topics.
A really dumb feature is the ability to watch the Hansons favorite scenes (anything with them in it basically), but all of these are selectable as chapter stops anyway. It’s a waste of space. The production notes are actually interesting here (most of the players were actual hockey players in case you didn’t know) and well worth a read. Rounding out the disc are the basics including the trailer and bios. (****)
Numerous websites have picked “Slap Shot” to be one of the best sports movies ever made. It’s almost disgusting to see this in the ranks with stuff like “Hoosiers,” “Rudy,” or even better sports comedies like “Major League.” Nostalgia is the reason this movie will make any best-of list.