Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (DVD, 2008, 2-Disc Set, Checkpoint; Includes Digital Copy; Sensormatic;W)

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The degeneration of Ben Stiller continues.

Jun 21, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The dodgeball parts.

Cons:The rest.

The Bottom Line: Didn't Ben Stiller once make good movies?


Imagine you're a world famous chef (Bear with me, this is going somewhere...honest.) preparing a pasta dish for a big competition. You've rounded up the best possible ingredients, and whipped up a picture perfect meal. The homemade pasta is perfect; the chicken appears to be seasoned ideally; and the cream sauce is to die for. It all looks great on the table, except for one thing: you unintentionally used sugar instead of salt in the marinade, literally leaving the judges with an unpleasant taste in their mouths. The sauce and pasta are still good, but the dissonant taste of the chicken ruins the entire dish.

That's Dodgeball. The concept drips with comic potential: an underdog dodgeball team, led by Vince Vaughn, faces off against the Goliath of the sport, a squad captained by Ben Stiller (in his fourth and perhaps worst movie of 2004). That's a typical sports movie storyline, infused with Stiller's usually stellar humor. The cast, primarily Vaughn and Stiller, are top comedic actors who have proven their talents multiple times. But the flavoring provided by two-thirds of the script dooms the entire film to mediocrity at best. Maybe Stiller needs Owen Wilson back to write him a passable script.

The title and hilarious trailer present the premise of the movie, but don't warn of the sixty minutes of filler that surround the games themselves. The basic setup of competing gyms is funny, and once finally reached thirty minutes in, the dodgeball scenes are comic gold. It's dodgeball for crying out loud. Just typing that makes me laugh. Televised on ESPN8, The Ocho, the championship tournament and its ethnically diverse teams provide the movie's best laughs. But in the meantime the movie struggles in ways that many sports movies do, as pointless, often crass, story arcs futilely attempt to inject romance and purpose into the games. I realize that the movie has to be longer than half an hour, but the quality comedy of dodgeball deserves better than bad SNL support.

Stiller inadvertently explains the problem with his movie in the worst credits sequence I've ever seen. He mockingly complains that audiences are looking for mindless entertainment, ironically having just sated that very group of people. Instead of producing razor-sharp satire like Zoolander, Stiller and his crew have degenerated into substandard crude comedy (and I use the term loosely) reminiscent of (gasp) BASEsketball. The last ten minutes are a prime example. After the inevitable climax, not a single line or scene is necessary. It's nothing but crude and lazy fluff, stretching the running time to a palatable 90 minutes.

The cast and crew have proven they can produce good to great comedy without resorting to puerile tactics and endless joke repetition. Better is expected here, especially of Stiller, who also co-produced Dodgeball. He has churned out comedic hits like Keeping the Faith, Meet the Parents, and Zoolander, all of which were often roll-on-the-floor funny without waaaay over-the-top violence and innuendo.

On the minimal plus side, Stiller and Vaughn are still their usual solid selves, although most of the stale jokes seem to be recycled from their other work. Perhaps because Stiller seems to be working so hard to earn laughs, Vaughn shines as the straight man. Nothing he does is inherently humorous, in fact I don't think he even performed all that well, but within the context of such an overblown movie, his subdued everyman actions occasionally strike a comedic chord. Christine Taylor is again adequate, playing almost the same character she did in Zoolander, a role that demands little. Rip Torn is the right man for his part as a crotchety old ex-dodgeball star, but his excessive crudeness and violence doesn't play right, although his departure from the movie does provide one of its funnier moments. As a standard assortment of misfits and musclemen, no one else does much of anything worth mentioning, except for a few strong cameo appearances that leave you wishing for more.

Technically, there's not much to say. Comedies such as this, even the good ones, are rarely notable (in a good or bad manner) for editing or score, and form holds here. The only noteworthy accomplishment is the horrific use of Chris De Burgh's classic ballad Lady in Red.

The movie raised various unanswerable questions. What's the deal with the pirate? How many times am I supposed to laugh at a guy getting hit in the groin? Do the financial aspects at the end actually make sense? Why did I pay money to see this garbage? These queries are unanswerable because by the time the movie stumbles to a halt, your brain will be numb, and you won't care enough to try a logical response.

With the subtitle of A True Underdog Story, perhaps Dodgeball was hoping to spawn a sequel. I hope that it does. Perhaps that one will find the missing two-thirds of this movie and live up to the potential promised by the premise and talent. A generous two of five stars.


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