Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)


(director/writer: Rawson Marshall Thurber; cinematographer: Jerzy Zielinski; editor: Alan Baumgarten; music: Theodore Shapiro; cast: Vince Vaughn (Peter La Fleur), Christine Taylor (Kate Veatch), Ben Stiller (White Goodman), Rip Torn (Patches O’Houlihan), Justin Long (Justin), Stephen Root (Gordon), Joel David Moore (Owen), Hank Azaria (Young Patches O’Houlihan), Chris Williams (Dwight), Joel Moore (Owen), Alan Tudyk (Steve the Pirate), Jamal Duff (Me’Shell Jones) (as Jamal E. Duff), Gary Cole (Cotton McKnight), Jason Bateman (Pepper Brooks); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Stuart Cornfeld/Ben Stiller; 20th Century Fox; 2004)

“A crude comedy that aims low and hits its mark.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“Dodgeball” is a crude comedy that aims low and hits its mark. If you’re the type that is tuned into “dumb comedies,” then this film does all it claims to do–it builds its comedy around its biggest running gag of those getting hit hard by the dodge ball. Director/writer Rawson Marshall Thurber teams Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn in a parody of gym cultures. Not in the least bit original, it revolves around a familiar David and Goliath story that leads to a predictable outcome.

Nice guy but unambitious Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) owns Average Joe’s, a low-rent gym facing bankruptcy. It is populated by non-paying losers and misfits including a self-styled pirate (Alan Tudyk), a middle-aged sports aficionado of obscure sports who is angered by the flirtations of his mail-order bride (Stephen Root), an affable African-American (Chris Williams), a retarded dorky young clerk who is horny because he can’t get a date (David Moore) and a lovesick high school nerd who wants to be a cheerleader (Justin Long). Despite Average Joes not offering any competition to Globo Gym, a multi-million high-tech fitness Goliath owned by White Goodman (Ben Stiller), the dumpy recreation center is spitefully eyed by Goodman when he learns of his rival’s financial problem. The bank sends pretty blonde attorney Kate Veach (Christine Taylor, Stiller’s real wife) to Peter’s gym to collect the $50,000 owed while White goes through the bank to buy Average Joe’s in a hostile takeover, using Kate to orchestrate the deal. Kate becomes the obligatory romantic interest of both gym owners.

The plan worked out for Peter’s ragtag group of regulars is to enter a Las Vegas Dodgeball tournament, where the winner collects a prize of $50,000. The ragtag group, who never played the game before, watch a 1950s-era educational film explaining the game’s history and how it’s played (the only really funny bit in the movie). They learn from legendary champion player Patches O’Houlihan (Hank Azaria) that “Dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion, and degradation.” Globo Gym spies on them and when learning of Average Joe’s quest, they also enter the contest with their all-star lineup of muscle men and a world-class woman player to thwart Peter’s plans. But Average Joe’s lucks out when it gets an aged, paraplegic, wheelchair-bound, crazed Patches (Rip Torn) to volunteer as coach.

Peter charms by trying to be so likable as a low-key regular guy, while White shoots for gross-out comedy as the wacky self-absorbed loudmouth villain dressed in spandex gym outfits and sporting a coiffed hair-do and a Fu Manchu mustache. All the stupidity culminates in the winner-take-all final dodgeball game in Las Vegas. The tournament announcers, play-by-play man Cotton McKnight and the inane color commentator Pepper Brooks, are a much poorer rip-off of the announcers Trevor Beckwith and Fred Willard in Christopher Guest’s “Best in Show.”

Its juvenile entertainment and a sorry effort aimed at picking on easy targets such as nerds and buffoonish health-spa owners, with the lowbrow comedy dwelling on the obvious and content to poke fun at people’s looks, weight problems and at their physical awkwardness. I’ve never found such mindless pratfall humor funny, but many in the audience did. The result is a silly film, that never misses a chance for a cheap laugh at the expense of someone else’s misfortune. This crass film has a PG-13 rating and supposedly could be safely viewed as family entertainment.