Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)

Perhaps you think this photo is funny.

And it is, in an “Oh, I feel sorry for that guy” kind of way.

But would you think it was funny if the joke went on and on, at the expense of the fat girl? Would you think it was funny if that poor young man collapsed with her on top of him, so that his face became stuck in her crotch?

If you think that’s funny, then this, I’m sorry to say, is the movie for you.

I’m convinced that the guys who made Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story are not the guys who were pummeled by the bullies in high school. This is not the revenge of the nerds. My guess is this: Since junior high, the bullies have remained in the intellectual locker-room, penciling dirty jokes on the walls of the bathroom stalls, while the geeks have gone on to good careers. The geeks have had the last laugh. The bullies, horrified to see that their glory days are gone, now see themselves as the victims. So, to make themselves feel better, they’ve decided to make a movie in which, once again, they can pummel the successful… and yet they can still have the pleasure of laughing to their hardened-hearts’ content at the expense of others.

Dodgeball is that comedy. While the movie tries to win our sympathies by casting the good guys as geeks, the movie’s sense of humor gives it all away: These are the jokes of the dumb thugs in the locker room, the guys who enjoyed laughing at the inadequacies of the weak kids, the fat kids, those without the straight-A’s in P.E.

Dodgeball is a forgettable, derivative, and gutter-minded work, playing strictly to the immature teenager in all of us.  Occasionally, it sets foot in Zoolander territory, trying to muster up some of the inspired zaniness and pop culture parodies that made Ben Stiller’s spoof of the fashion industry stand out from the rest of these post-SNL comedies. “Writer”/director Rawson Marshall Thurber seems to think it’s much funnier to make Rip Torn shout dick jokes than it is to actually come up with something that qualifies as comedy.

There’s no reason to summarize the film. If you’ve seen the previews or television commercials, you know all you need to know. It’s just the most basic of formulas used as an excuse to make money of the easily-duped Old School crowd by stuffing the gaps with lines like “You’re as useless as a poopie-flavored lollipop.” (That’s one of the better lines in the film… believe me.)

Since most of those who want to go see a movie like this probably aren’t going to listen to reviews, and those who do listen to reviews could probably smell this stinker a mile off, I’m not going to waste valuable time describing the plot. Suffice to say it’s about some losers who want to save their gym from being bought by a super-gym, so they enter a dodgeball contest and learn there’s hardly any real competition. The bad guys are, of course, the super-gym staff led by Stiller in his most annoyingly crass performance.

It’s always hard to see talented comedians wasting their energies on such juvenile behavior, but it’s especially painful to see Alan Tudyk, who exhibited such brilliant comic timing in TV’s short-lived Firefly series, reduced to playing Steve, the guy who thinks he’s a pirate. Not even the comedy genius of Stephen Root can save this disaster.

If you do see it, you probably will laugh… occasionally. But for every good line, there are fifteen that sound like they were scraped off the walls of mens’ room stalls. The cameos are funny, and when we get to the actual dodgeball tournament, the send-up of ESPN sports coverage is a hoot. But that doesn’t come close to making this worth the 94 minutes.

The film is sloppy, and some of the actors seem like they wish they could pry themselves out of it. Vince Vaughn looks bored to tears, and since he’s the central character, that feeling spreads to the viewer. And Stiller’s willingness to stoop to a dick joke at every possible opportunity becomes wearying. Why is he so intent on playing throwaway’s like this, when he’s been in such intelligent and memorable films as Flirting with Disaster?

For comedy this summer, save your pennies for Anchorman, which has the potential to be for Will Ferrell what The Jerk was for Steve Martin and Groundhog Day was for Bill Murray: the defining moment that places him in the pantheon of big screen comedy greats. By spending their time in projects like this Stiller, Vaughn, and Company are winning the fans they deserve.

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Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber; director of photography, Jerzy Zielinski; edited by Alan Baumgarten; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Maher Ahmad; produced by Ben Stiller and Stuart Cornfeld. Starring – 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) and Hank Azaria (Young Patches O’Houlihan). 20th Century Fox. Running time: 96 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

 

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