Review: ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story’

Slapstick isn’t dead; it just took until now for someone to realize that being hit in the face with a dodgeball is a lot funnier than a cream pie.

Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn) runs Average Joe’s Gym, a happy little place where people hang out, exercise if they want, and that doesn’t make a dime in income. When a lawyer named Kate (Christine Taylor) tells Peter he’s got to come up with fifty thousand dollars to save the gym, the only shot the Average Joes have is to save their hangout is to win a dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas. Unfortunately for the Joes, the founder and owner of Globogym (Ben Stiller) owns the second mortgage and decides to thwart Peter and the Joes by taking his own dodgeball team, the Purple Cobras, and complete the Joes’ humiliation personally.

Who knew there were pro dodgeball teams? Who knew it was a sport? Who knew ESPN had eight cable broadcast channels? The makers of Dodgeball are essentially making fun of sports and of sports coverage in general, while at the same time providing ample room for Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller to do their comedy thing. Whereas many films (especially ‘sports’ films) run out of things to do and say early on, there seemed to be no shortage of ways to pummel and humiliate the characters for this films’ entire running time nor a shortage of laughs.

The sheer volume of physical violence in this film is nothing short of Wile E. Coyote. Following that, the rest of the film contemplates all possible meanings of the word “innuendo” while amazingly keeping the film’s rating down to a PG-13. Nothing is sacred and no punches are pulled; the film knows who it’s stars are and everyone else fills the casting sheet like the props they are. It works, and the film is just self-aware enough that it can get away with a serious moment when least expected (if only to set up a funnier punchline in the end).

Vaughn keeps to the good-guy routine, even though he’s obviously a lazy opportunist that’s nice enough to say the right things to people who would probably suffer a breakdown over the truth (just ask the guy who thinks he’s an actual pirate). Ben Stiller again summons his underappreciated Zoolander character skills to fill the shoes of a smarmy under-educated self-starter that’s blissfully unaware of the joke that he is. Rip Torn arrives early on as a dodgeball coach taking the Joes under his wing (wasting no time being as sick as possible), while an endless parade of clever cameos fill odd parts throughout the rest of the movie and to the best possible effect.

This film isn’t destined to win any awards, but the subject matter is so universally understood that it’s a wonder no one has tried to make a film revolving around dodgeball sooner. It’s also more proof that Ben Stiller needs to keep to character parts and leave the dull leading man stuff and romantic leads to others. If you want further proof of that, stay until after the end of the credits to see what lengths of embarrassment Stiller is willing to endure for your entertainment dollar.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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