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

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Everything I know about Dodgeball I learnt at the movies...

Jan 5, 2005 (Updated Jan 19, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Comic scriptwriting at its silliest and finest! Stiller is funnier than ever before.

Cons:Plot as watertight as a sieve and character depth to match. A one man show.

The Bottom Line: Warning: Do NOT watch this film if you have recently had any form of abdominal surgery.


"Your gym is a skidmark on the underpants of society."

White Goodman (Ben Stiller) is the ultra-athletic self styled fitness guru and owner of 'Globo Gym'.

He used to be fat and ugly - boo hoo - but then one day he woke up and realised that he was never gonna get the kind of attention, affirmation and vast sums of cash if he clearly deserved if didn't get off his gargantuan butt and turn those rippling rolls of excess fat into an Olympian body of finely chiselled muscle. And that's just what he did. He finally learnt to hate himself enough to want to change. And now, several years on after realising his own 'lean dream' he's here to help you realise yours. With the aid of his Globo Gym staff (including a team of on-site plastic surgeons) he is willing to help you see yourself for the sad, pathetic, overweight, lowlife looser you really are - and turn it all around to make you into the muscle-bound egomaniac you've always dreamed of being (for a small fortunate of course).

If, on the other hand, you're quite happy with your impoverished physique and general level of underachievement, then why not pay a visit to 'Average Joes Gym' where they'll except you just the way you are, delusional personality disorders and all, and never ply you with any annoying incentives to actually change. Think of it as a daycare centre for societies marginalised folk. Hell, they're so laid back they won't even charge you membership. That's gym owner Pete La Fleur's philosophy in life, "If you have a goal, you might not reach it. But if you don't have one, then you are never disappointed.". Apathy reigns over activity at Average Joes, and besides not collecting the membership fees no one seems to have noticed that it's motley crew of non-paying patrons are a few chromosomes short of 'average' either.

And who else but the mischievous God's of fate would have conspired to place these two gyms a mere stones throw from each other on opposite sides of the road?



"I have shareholders, you haven't even got cup holders!"

Besides their job titles, gym owners White and Pete don't have a lot in common and surprisingly enough and there aint an awful lot of love lost between them . Pete's apathetic outlook on life (and indeed exercise) is like mace spray in the eyes of fitness-freak White Goodman. But it's this same apathy in matters of business that's just landed Pete and Average Joes in a spot of trouble, and handed the golden glove of vengeful opportunity to White. Average Joe's are behind on their repayments ($50,000 behind to be exact) and have just 30 days to pay up before Goodman moves in with the bulldozers to make way for his new parking lot - boo.. hisss...

Although in all honesty, you can't help thinking that the bunch of cretinous muppets at Average Joes actually deserve it. The scriptwriters couldn't be bothered investing them with any particularly worthwhile qualities which would make the loss of their gym anything more than slightly unfortunate (other than the rather worrying prospect of them wandering about in society at large) and even Pete in his typically stoic outlook is prepared to resign this failure to 'one of those things in life that can't be helped, without investing actual effort'. However, fortunately for the unfit misfits at Average Joes (and the audience) White Goodman isn't just any old gym owner, he's a hideously self obsessed, narcissistic egotistical maniac with an inflatable crotch, dubious facial hair and a poor command of basic grammar, aka, the 'bad guy'. And therein lies the crux of the dramatic potential of the plot, Average Joes can't loose the gym because White Goodman will get it, and well, frankly that just wouldn't be cricket! And indeed it's not.

The answer? Dodgeball. A tournament in Las Vegas offers the winners a conveniently grand prize of $50,000 in a conveniently short space of time (ie. Less than 30 days) - ack ye Gods.. why play ye so mercilessly with our mortal affairs?

And so the stage is set. Add to the cast the feminine charms of lawyer/dodgeball heroine Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor) and the questionable guidance of wheelchair bound, urine drinking (?!), one time dodgeball legend Patches O'Houlihan (Rip Torn)- and before we know it we're off on a hilarious adventure of miniature and scantily believable proportions.

"So what the hell is dodgeball anyway?" (I hear my fellow Europeans cry)



"Dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion, and degradation."

Well, at least that cleared up some confusion. Being British I had no idea what dodgeball was all about (being unable to believe that it really was as simple as it sounds) and clearly I wasn't alone as the inept band of underdogs begin their extremely amusing tuition in the art of the game at the hands of O'Houlihan - who's motivational lessons include throwing metal objects at his proteges ("If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge balls" unfortunately Justin can do neither) and sending them out into the lethal path of the freeway with the equally inspiring assurance "If you can dodge traffic you can dodge a ball" - harsh, but fair - they just don't make coaches like they used to.

As O'Houlihan guides them through the 'Five D's of Dodgeball' (Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive and Dodge) the team progresses to the final rounds in Las Vegas where they are destined to meet Globo Gym's 'Purple Cobras' in the most dramatic Dodgeball final since the Helsinki final of 1919, and as commentator Cotton McKnight points out "I think we all remember how THAT turned out!" Indeed.

Will the Average Joes underdogs defeat the muscle clad cranially diminished hulks, ('Blade, Laser and Blazer') of the Purple Cobras? Will White Goodman's team destroy their opponents and then their gym to make way for a parking lot, will Pete get the girl, will the effeminate cheerleader get the girl, will the geeky nerd get the big scarey Russian girl and will Steve the Pirate go back to rehab and resume therapy with the shrink - and, do we actually care about any of it? Well, I won't ruin the rest of the film by telling you (although the answers to any of those questions are unlikely to ruin any dramatic tension) but I will answer the last one. In short no.

Frankly, we don't really care about any of this - but that's not the point. This movie wasn't made to make us care, think, or do anything but simply laugh, very loudly, until our stomach hurts and our eyes water. And it achieves that aim without even breaking a sweat.



"Go ahead, make your jokes, Mr. Jokey... Joke-maker"

That's just what they did, they made their jokes, relentlessly, emphatically, persistantly from start to finish. Almost every line of dialogue dripping with the sort of inane yet irresistibly amusing innuendo that would have a high school class in fits of hysteria for the best part of an hour. An oozing, potent cocktail of genuine wit, gratuitous locker room humour and frivolous absurdities this could well be the Holy Grail of comic scriptwriting. Unfortunately, that's all they did. DodgeBall is essentially a collection of jokes, innuendos, cliches and visual gags held somewhat loosely together by what I'd call a 'Trojan plot' - ie. A device in the guise of a plot used to deliver something other than a genuine story - be it a moral or political message, gratuitous sex ('I've come to fix your washer'), or in this case a plethora of side splitting one liners and good old fashioned slapstick. So if you're coming here looking for anything more meaningful than your average 'Itchy and Scratchy' cartoon you'll be sorely disappointed, but that was never the point with this film, and they know it. It's essentially one long 'in-joke' which works well because the audience feels as though they're 'in' on it, and everyone likes that feeling.

The script is full of self-referencing nods and winks to the audience, and like a good pantomime, it succeeds in its ability suspend your cynicism only so far as the audience continue to be entertained. In the rare moments when the laughs get a little thinner on the ground the absolute absence of anything resembling tangible plot, character development, emotional involvement, production value etc begins to transpire through the mist of mirth that has so far engulfed you. Fortunately for Thurber these moments are few and far between as the script rattles on relentlessly abusing the grotesque caricature that is White Goodman.

There's no denying that this part was written for Ben Stiller. The part is Ben Stiller - undoubtedly director Rawson Thurber had Stiller's imatable voice in his head when he penned the line "Nobody makes me bleed my own blood. NOBODY" and so it was that 'White Goodman' was born and Stiller's legendary comic career hit another mile stone. By throwing his lot in with Stiller's character, Thurber took a gamble on the rest of the film. If you don't like Stiller (or conversely, if you don't find White Goodman hilariously intolerable) then there's really nothing else here for you. But at least Thurber makes no real pretence at a genuine 'film' so to speak - the rest of the cast and plot are paper thin, but it's clear that the gamble paid off judging by the abundance of raving reviews.



"We're also missing Steve the Pirate"

As for the rest of the cast (other than the incompetent band of cliched nerds, which includes Steve the Pirate) Vince Vaughn does just enough as Pete La Fleur, and playing his character straight and deadpan, adds a comic contrast to the opulent dramatic excesses of Stiller's Goodman. Christine Taylor is cutesy enough as the love interest, and fortunately doesn't take herself or the role too seriously, and seems content to be 'part of the action' - in every sense. Of particular note is Rip Torn as the slightly demented (in an insane genius way) dodgeball coach, who's gleeful disregard for political correctness makes for some very amusing 'inspirational talks' to his team of woeful underdogs - "You're about as useful as a cock flavoured lollipop"

Other side characters of interest include the two commentators played to a tee by Gary Cole (as 'Cotton McKnight') "It's time to separate the weak from the chafed, the men from the boys, the awkwardly feminine from the possibly Canadian." and Jason Bateman (as 'Pepper Brooks') "Ooh, Ouchtown, population you, bro!" and a few notable and extremely amusing cameos by Lance Armstrong (you have to see it to believe it), Chuck Norris, William Shatner and David Hasslehoff. It's when you realise that the cameos are acting as well as the stars (Stiller aside) that you begin to suspect that the Oscars were not at the forefront of anyone's mind during the making of this film.



"In some cultures, they only eat vomit."

So after all this, why the average rating? Hadn't I already admitted that this isn't the kind of film that you'd expect to find satisfying character development and plot structure? Well, yes, and it is hysterically funny at times, but deep down I can't help but feel a little bit cheated at the end. Like I've been lined up for a talent show in comic scriptwriting and theatrical acting - but with no real pay off in the end. Once the laughter fades and your sides stop aching, what's left? A few one liners and the thought "I can't believe they got Lance Armstrong". Personally I don't think that a director can display such blatant disregard for the overall structure and content of a film and get away with it, however amusing the gags that fill the screen time. Which is why I find films which have a lower 'joke-to-minute' ratio but a more complete sense of structure, development and resolution (like 'Meet the Parents', 'Mystery Men', 'There's Something about Mary' et al) much more satisfying as a whole and their comic aftertaste more pleasing.

Therefore I can't justify giving this film anymore than 3 stars because although it scores 5 on the humorous writing scale, it fails to make an impression on any of the other key areas that matter in making a successful film in any genre. It's no good just excusing it by saying 'but it's a comedy' because a successful comedy will not just make you laugh, but it will satisfy the conventions of the medium (ie. Film) and place the humour into a stable, lasting framework. Like a good locker room joke this film is enjoyable entirely in the present moment, but lacks the humorous longevity of the classics in the genre.

But I should probably be more forgiving as this is Thurber's debut, and I do see a bright, glittering and extremely funny career ahead of him.

Watch this film at least once, but possibly only once, then buy a copy of the script and amuse yourself endlessly in your spare time at work.


Recommend this product? Yes

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