A True Underdog Story
Some people warm their hearts with stories
of their fellow men finding inner reserves of strength,
overcoming all odds to succeed at a seemingly impossible
mission. Some people just think it's really funny to see
guys get knocked unconscious by red balls. Moreover, they
snicker every time somebody utters the phrase "red balls."
Fear not. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story gets heartwarming
chocolate in its slapstick peanut butter, and brings two
great tastes together.
There is teamwork. There is friendship.
There is overcoming of insurmountable obstacles. There is
Rip Torn in a wheelchair throwing wrenches. There are red
balls. Lots and lots of red balls.
Like There's Something About Mary,
this film really is that rare confluence of gross comedy
and keen storytelling that marked the best of the genre
that started with Animal House. Even Curtis Armstrong,
Booger from Revenge of the Nerds, shows up in a cameo
to pass the torch and acknowledge the past. Yes, despite
its low comedy, Dodgeball deserves a little pseudo-intellectual
difference between those eighties comedies and now is that
Hollywood doesn't work the same way. They don't make little
movies that seem little anymore. So Dodgeball may
owe a lot to formula films like Hot Dog: The Movie
or even Up The Creek, but it now has to have a lot
more flash. But writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber
turns that to his advantage, giving us bombast when necessary
but never losing track of some tightly written if obvious
Most of the flash comes from his set-up
of Globogym, the sterile overachieving workout conglomerate
run by the evil White Goodman (Ben Stiller). A domed city
of total fitness, Globogym has the most up-to-date equipment,
including plasma screens from which White can act as a dimwitted
Big Brother, observing and haranguing his clients in pre-recorded
messages. The cleverest production design goes here, as
the film goes wild with subtle (and not so subtle) homoeroticism,
particularly in White's office.
Literally across the street, Average Joe's
Gym struggles to get by. Run by underachiever Peter LaFleur
(Vince Vaughn), its appearance is rudimentary. Here, the
characters get the fine detail reserved for Globogym's interior.
Stephen Root and Justin Long show up to play extreme versions
of their recent television roles on King of the Hill
and Ed, but any annoyance at that is offset by just
how good they are at it.
Average Joe's isn't just for lovable losers.
Though Pete's slacker heart is open to them, giving them
a place to go and hide from the realities of their lives,
he also deals with one true loon: Steve The Pirate (Alan
Tudyk). At first, it's possible that Steve is just a guy
from the Treasure Island casino that takes his role too
far. But no, that would be too easy. Take it in stride that
Steve simply thinks he's really a pirate. After a particularly
harsh dodgeball training session, that eyepatch comes in
Since there must be conflict, Dodgeball
throws in a financial crisis, the threat of foreclosure
from Globogym, and of course, the potential prize money
that could save it all. The plot plays from a predictable
book, and presents its beats with neon signs. All the better
to throw in some detailed joke. Acknowledging that its very
premise is silly, the characters find their inspiration
in a magazine called Obscure Sports Quarterly. And
yet the movie would have you reconcile that with a huge
dodgeball following on ESPN 8 - "The Ocho." Not so silly,
really, when you consider how much attention curling got
at the last Winter Olympics. Sports fans will watch anything
to feed their jones.
And really, as presented here, dodgeball
has its fascinating elements. Even the out of shape can
play, though Hank Azaria as young Rip Torn cautions in a
training film, always pick the bigger, stronger kids for
your team. Yes, a lot of playground pain gets played for
Most importantly, the laughs keep coming.
At some points, the jokes come so fast and furious that
it's almost hard to breathe. Somehow, the film keeps coming
up with new and effective variations on the sound of rubber
smacking heads, and Long and Root both manage to never fall
down the same way twice. But again, there's also some really
smart character work.
White Goodman, for example, is an ingenious
Stiller creation. A former fattie, he has an obsession with
food that borders on sexual, which Stiller turns into hilarious
moments. There's a purposeful unlikable element, too, in
White's swagger. He clearly equates his success with an
intelligence that he doesn't actually have, constantly misusing
big words and trying to prove how smart he is. White may
be the dark side of Derek Zoolander, but he also has a lot
of mannerisms that look suspiciously like Tom Cruise.
In the role that would have once gone to
Tim Matheson, Vaughn takes it all in stride. Though mostly
a straight man to the lunacy around him, the actor has great
timing. He also has a rare mixture of sincerity and snarkiness,
absolutely crucial to making this movie work.
also throws in a lot of cameos, celebrating actors who may
not be known for comedy, but are actually some of the funniest
people around. Between Arrested Development and this,
Jason Bateman has earned himself a golden comedy career
that Valerie's Family can no longer stain. As sportscaster
Cotton McKnight, Gary Cole continues to prove himself an
incredibly versatile actor.
And then there's the stunt casting, including
the best obligatory athlete cameo ever. It's awkwardly performed,
as few athletes are actors, but it is as sharp and stinging
as the feel of that rough crimson polymer scraping across
your cheek at high speed, sending your black plastic-framed
glasses clattering to the ground.
Anyway, it comes down to this: I laughed
so hard at Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story that
I thought an eye was going to pop out. And do stay for the
post-credits scene, or as we call it here at Fanboy Planet,
"the monkey." Because that's where my eye almost exited