If you ever watched Jackass, it would
seem that fate intended for Johnny Knoxville to star in
a film like The Ringer. An old hand at doing things
to make him look stupid, the prankster turned actor easily
fits the part of a guy stupid enough to try to rig the Special
Olympics. At least, that's the impression you'd get on paper.
Surprisingly, the script by Ricky Blitt
(a Family Guy writer and producer) tries very hard
to make Steve (Knoxville) into a too-nice guy backed into
a very tasteless decision. Allegedly a loser all his life,
Steve listens to motivational tapes and works up the courage
to ask for a promotion. When his first task is to fire Stavi
the Janitor (Luis Avalos), Steve buckles and hires him to
be a gardener instead, with disastrous results.
So Steve needs money, fast. And his ne'er
do well Uncle Gary (Brian Cox - we chew up and destroy fine
Shakespearean actors in America) needs to get out of debt
to his mobbed-up bookie. Their needs collide, getting inspiration
from the greatest Special Olympian, Jimmy. The athlete gets
a lot of endorsements for being a five time Special Olympic
Champion, but Gary figures he would be easy for Steve to
Of course, this means we have a life lesson
coming on, and one that is actually pretty valuable. The
Ringer has the endorsement of Special Olympics, and
it's very clear why. In fact, the 16-year Special Olympian
playing Jimmy, Leonard Flowers, has been on a box of Wheaties
just like character. Many of the actors here do have inspirational
stories. But the movie keeps turning treacly out of deference
to its subject, when we could have learned the lesson and
still had a few sharp jokes.
Though only produced by the Farrelly Brothers,
The Ringer falls into the trap of most of their work.
It takes a concept that we expect to hit low, and then tries
to elevate it by playing nice when things might be getting
too dark. Director Barry M. Blaustein (Beyond the Mat)
clearly had their playback to follow.
Knoxville's attempts to create a mentally
challenged character are an effort to have cake and eat
it, too. He runs through several offensive stereotypes before
settling on the good-natured Jeffy, who speaks in the third
person and walks with a slight hunch.
The ruse doesn't work long, as a group
of other athletes quickly figure out that his speech patterns
are inconsistent when he gets annoyed with them. They go
along with it, though, because Jimmy is a jerk, and they
want to see him taken down a peg.
It's a nifty reversal, but Blaustein and
Blitt have trouble working with it. Despite his presence
as the antagonist, Jimmy never really rises as someone we
should dislike. Sure he's cocky, but only once does he actively
dismiss another character. So what if he recognizes that
saying "I'm going to Disneyworld" is a cliché? That doesn't
make him a villain; it does possibly make him a better writer.
The script never really tries to work out
its problems; instead, it just glosses over them. We never
see any consequences to the things that happen here, because
this comedy refuses to acknowledge pain with an epilogue
so trite that it almost destroys any goodwill the rest of
the film built.
By the way, it does have some. Knoxville
really has risen above being an MTV idiot, and can hiss
lines like "they're my FRIENDS" with conviction. He's also
not above a good pratfall, and he takes them like the pro
In one clever scene, posing as Jeffy, Knoxville
runs into an old high school buddy. The guy can't tell the
difference between Jeffy and the Steve he knew years before
- the only really subtle point-making the script does.
Somehow Knoxville even makes the strange
romance between "Jeffy" and the Special Olympics volunteer
Lynn (Katherine Heigl) dance on the verge of plausibility,
and he shows that he knows the consequences even if the
film refuses to acknowledge them.
The actors playing the Olympians also have
good timing. If nothing else, some of the lines are bound
to pop up as sound bites. In and out of context, they're
Unfortunately, it's hard to get around
the disrespect the film shows us. Though Heigl plays Lynn
with vivaciousness and apparent sensitivity, the idea that
she (or anyone else society considers "normal") can't figure
out Knoxville's ruse is just insulting. The Ringer
has the noble goal of proving that mentally challenged doesn't
mean dumb. Too bad it has to treat us as dumb to do it.
- Yes, there's a lawsuit threatened between the makers of
The Ringer and the South Park guys, because a couple of
years ago Cartman tried to rig the Special Olympics. Do
not hate The Ringer for allegedly ripping off Parker and
Stone. The Farrellys have had this script in development
for years, and the announcement that this was on their docket
came before the South Park episode. But truth be told, Parker
and Stone did it better, because they're not afraid to offend
in the service of making us laugh.