Set in the low-rent world of minor-league hockey, the movie follows the efforts of player-coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) to turn around the Charlestown Chiefs' final, losing season in a dying Pennsylvania steel town. Reggie is not above using a dirty trick or two to manipulate his teammates or psych out opposing players, and cheerfully gets physical when he has to. Even Reggie recoils in disgust, however, when his tightwad manager (Strother Martin) brings in the Hanson Brothers, three thick-lensed, thicker-headed goons who are more interested in fighting than playing Reggie's brand of "old-time hockey".
When it becomes apparent that the hometown crowd loves the Hanson's rough and bloody style, Reggie decides to go with the flow, and to fire up his other players concocts the story that, if they can win the championship, the owner will be able to sell the franchise to a group of rich retirees in Florida. To do that, though, they will have to get past an opposing squad specially stocked with the league's most notorious goons...
A sometimes uneasy blend of slapstick and kitchen-sink realism , "Slap Shot" has some pertinent things to say about the American worship of success at all costs, and (long before the rise of the WWF) our fascination with violent sports. Echos of its gritty style can be seen not only in many later sporting films, such as "Bull Durham" and "Major League", but even in the wave of British movies in which characters fight to hold onto their lives after the collapse of hometown industry, such as "The Full Monty" and "Brassed Off".
The film really shines as a straight comedy, though, delivering some classic characters and set pieces: virtually every appearance of the Hansons; a clueless, toupee-wearing sportscaster (Andrew Duncan); the team's tiny Quebecker goalie (Yvon Barrette), and Newman himself, in one of his personal favorite roles. The females fare less well, although Jennifer Warren stands out as Dunlop's long-suffering, estranged wife.
Note: in the VHS version, the background music has been replaced by an inferior, generic soundtrack. The DVD version, with the original music, is preferable.