Poking Fun at Sports Flicks
I had a feeling that Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story would be more than another dopey, simpleminded comedy, a la Dude, Where's My Car? As I watched the ads, I thought it looked like not only a very funny flick but also a sharp-minded satire aimed at those predictable sports movies where a ragtag bunch of characters come together and try to beat the odds against them. Dodgeball, written and directed by first-timer Rawson Marshall Thurber (no, that's not a law firm; it's a real person), didn't disappoint me. It utilizes every tired cliche ever kicked around in a sports movie to comedic advantage; think of any particular subplot or occurrence that's been done to death, and Thurber has found a way to make fun of it in this goofy comedy that's much more intelligent than some audiences will give it credit for.
Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn), the owner of Average Joe's, a small-time gym with a $50,000 debt, discovers that White Goodman (Ben Stiller), the founder of the tyrannical Globo Gym chain, wants to buy Average Joe's and turn it into a parking lot. Peter and his cadre of colorful clients try their hardest to raise enough cash to pay the bank, but their efforts ultimately land them deeper into debt. Then one of the guys comes up with a plan: enter a Las Vegas dodgeball tournament, which has a grand prize of, wouldn't you know it, $50,000. With the help of attractive lawyer Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor) and legendary dodgeball champion Patches O'Houlihan (Rip Torn), Peter and the members of Average Joe's set out to give it all they've got in the tournament, including going up against White and his squad of über-athletes.
The key to a comedy's success is how well it can make viewers laugh at the material, but it helps if the jokes and gags are laced with a little satire and good-natured ribbing. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story benefits not only from having a great knack for parodying but by just being a funny, funny movie. The jokes don't always rely on people getting hit in the dodgeball scenes; Thurber bases his sense of humor on completely random things that come out of left field, have their desired effect, and leave while the viewers are laughing themselves silly. A Knight's Tale's Alan Tudyk plays a guy who thinks he's a pirate; no reason why, he just is as he is. A running joke about whether or not Kate is a lesbian gets humorously resolved in the film's ending. The array of celebrity cameos comes off funnier than the slate in the new version of Around the World in 80 Days, and mentioning a single one of them would spoil what makes their appearances so great.
Some of the jokes don't work (Stiller's character gets annoying fast, and the dodgeball commentators played by Gary Cole and Jason Bateman could've been more humorous), but Dodgeball always has its satirical edge to fall back on. Whether poking fun at sports flicks in the form of Rip Torn's grizzled coach and the impossibly geeky members of Average Joe's or at America's obsession with fitness and sports programming (the dodgeball games are aired on ESPN 8: "The Ocho"), Thurber's aim is more dead-on than a group of dodgeball players ganging up on the school nerd.
As the sarcastic straight man of the production, Vaughn leads the actors in bringing out the likability of their characters through a series of bright and amusing performances. Although Stiller's dense White Goodman often wears thin, his schtick does work in a couple of good scenes (his last line, the last one of the picture, is a keeper), and Christine Taylor, Stiller's wife in real life, does a nice turn as a woman who joins the Average Joe's team out of sheer disgust for White. Torn scores a good number of laughs as the former dodgeball ace, whose training methods are a little offbeat for Peter and the team ("If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!"). The supporting cast is rounded out by goofy performances from Tudyk as Steve the Pirate, Hank Azaria as a young Patches, and Missi Pyle as an Eastern European dodgeball pro recruited by White.
Plain and simple, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is one funny flick -- but dig a little deeper and find the satirical source driving the picture. Anyone who's ever gone through the experience of playing the infamous game in school will find something to laugh at here.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG-13" for rude and sexual humor, and language.)
Review also posted on www.ajhakari.com.