Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 29, 2020)
Compared to sports like baseball, football and boxing, not a lot of hockey movies exist. However, in that genre, 1977’s Slap Shot stands as almost certainly the most beloved of the lot.
A minor league hockey team, the Charlestown Chiefs struggle to draw crowds. Business matters deteriorate to the point where it looks like the Chiefs will go defunct.
Faced with this prospect, player/coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) decides to go for broke and embrace an especially violent form of hockey to attract fans. We follow these exploits alongside Reggie’s attempts to reconcile with estranged wife Francine (Jennifer Warren).
In the category of “movies that couldn’t be made today”, we must include Slap Shot, an intensely non-politically correct effort. Oh sure, we could get a version of this tale, but not in the same way, as the film virtually revels in its potentially offensive content.
Granted, a lot of what won’t fly in 2020 seemed perfectly acceptable in 1977. We can find attitudes and terms that just weren’t seen as inherently off-limits 43 years ago.
In any case, viewers who hope to enjoy Slap Shot will need to subsume 2020 standards to do so. While not relentlessly outré, the movie clearly must be seen as a product of its time.
With that POV in place, I can find a lot to enjoy about Slap Shot, as it brings a gleefully raunchy look at the lives of minor league athletes. One can’t locate a particularly coherent plot, but that’s not unusual for movies of this sort.
Like 1988’s Bull Durham - a film that clearly took inspiration from it - Slap Shot brings a character comedy built around a rough narrative theme. Sure, we get the general through-line related to Reggie’s attempts to keep the team afloat, but that exists for little reason other than to motivate character interactions.
For all intents and purposes, Slap Shot remains a plot-free affair, and that seems fine with me. The movie locates more than enough amusing shenanigans to sustain the viewer’s attention.
When it sticks with the Chiefs and the players, that is. Unfortunately, Slap Shot sags badly when it invests in romantic melodrama.
Does anyone actually care about Reggie’s estranged wife or his attempts to seduce his teammate’s wife Lily (Lindsay Crouse)? Maybe, but I don’t, and those scenes feel out of place and downright boring.
Still, we don’t get enough of those mopey diversions to actively harm the movie. Newman proves his usual delightful self, and it’s fun that we get his reunion with Strother Martin from Cool Hand Luke.
The rest of the actors add mirth and life as well. 43 years later, the loutish but innocent Hanson Brothers remain iconic, and while I don’t totally get why this remains the case, they bring a weird energy to the film.
I don’t know if Slap Shot deserves its status as a classic of sorts, but the movie does what it needs to do. Even with some slow spots, it brings an entertaining collection of wild comedic antics.