DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY
***** (out of 5)
June 18, 2004
Vince Vaughn as PETER LA FLEUR
Ben Stiller as WHITE GOODMAN
Christine Taylor as KATE VEATCH
Rip Torn as PATCHES O’HOULIHAN
Justin Long as JUSTIN
Stephen Root as GORDON
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
BY KEVIN CARR
Okay, let’s cut to the chase. “Dodgeball” could very well be one of the funniest movies of the year. I laughed my butt off. But this did not come easy. While I’m a huge Ben Stiller fan, I think Vince Vaughn can blow hot and cold. And I have to admit that the first time I saw the cardboard stand-up for “Dodgeball,” I did let out a groan.
When the movie started, I was skeptical. I saw some old jokes and some cheap jokes. I saw some comedy stand-bys like fake infomercials and the hero being set up as a nice guy whose down on his luck only because he’s too soft. But as the film ramped up, I found myself chuckling. Then laughing. Then howling.
This movie tells the story of a rag-tag group of dregs from the Average Joe’s Gym who join an international dodgeball tournament to fight against GloboGym, the competitor across the street threatening to buy them out and level their home turf.
When “Dodgeball” starts, you’ll probably think you’re just watching a dumb movie – a really, really dumb movie. But as the movie continues, you just may realize that its humor is brilliant. It’s not just brilliant for being able to slip in gross-out humor but for being able to slip it in under the wire to the point that it’s passable as fodder for the trailer – like Christine Taylor throwing up in her own mouth. There hasn’t been a film that can walk such a fine line between crassness and creativity since “There’s Something About Mary.” (Remember the “hair gel” scene that also made its way into the trailers?)
Ben Stiller’s been a busy man the past few years. He’s come out with a bevy of films that dwarfs the filmography of many of his contemporaries. Unfortunately for Stiller, not all of them have been successes (like the lukewarm performance of “Along Came Polly”). Some of them have even been downright bombs (like the funny, but not commercially viable “Duplex” and “Envy”). Even this year’s hit “Starsky & Hutch” wasn’t as good as it could have been.
But “Dodgeball”? “Dodgeball” has done it. Finally, Stiller has hit a level of humor that I haven’t seen since “Zoolander.” And using Stiller as the antagonist and Vince Vaughn as the protagonist puts them in slightly different character roles. “Dodgeball” also manages to cast Stiller’s off-screen wife Christine Taylor as the female lead without ripping off the “Zoolander” model (no pun intended).
The supporting cast for this film is awesome. It has a level of synergy that clicks and makes the whole better than the sum of its parts. Any one of the pathetic Average Joe dodgeball team is just a semi-recognizable face. But together, they make an ensemble that would normally trump their stars if the stars didn’t do such a decent job themselves.
There are so many levels of jokes in this film that they’re all hard to catch. And things get thrown at you so fast during the tournament scenes. Gary Cole and Jason Bateman make stellar cameos as the sports announcers for ESPN 8 “The Ocho,” calling the dodgeball tournament. Other hilarious cameos include Hank Azaria, William Shatner, David Hasselhoff and Chuck Norris.
Part of the charm of “Dodgeball” is that it taps into our childhood playground fantasies. Who doesn’t want to get a bunch of friends, take over a grade-school playground and pelt those stinging red balls at each other’s heads. After watching the movie, I’m dying for a dodgeball game.
Like a freshman at the senior prom, there’s some awkward padding in the film, but it was not too distracting. Even the parts from the trailer are still funny in context. I knew certain lines were coming, but I still found myself laughing. And fortunately I wasn’t one of those losers who leaves before the end of the credits. One of the most hysterical scenes takes place at the tail end of the crawl. It’s Ben Stiller at his best.
There are those that think only significant, thought provoking films like “Shindler’s List” and “Terms of Endearment” are worthy of a five star rating. But not this guy. I think a film is judged by what it was meant to be and how well it achieves it. “Dodgeball” does everything it’s supposed to do. It’s spoofy without being a direct spoof. It’s not just a take-off on sports films. It sends up all the conventions of the industry. While you might be tempted to call certain plot points cliches, by the end of the film, it’s clear that every weakness in the plot was crafted to poke fun at the Hollywood sensibilities of movie making.
Undoubtedly, this movie is going to be raked over the coals by many critics. But these are the same types of people that failed to see the genius in “Blazing Saddles” thirty years ago because it’s not considered intellectual to laugh at fart jokes. And heck, this may bomb as bad as “BASEketball” did. But whether “Dodgeball” even musters up any critical or commercial success, it should be remembered as one of the first great comedies of this century.