What is a "Ben Stiller" film? It can be either a conventional comedy like Along Came Polly or an absurd romp like Starsky & Hutch. Dodgeball, a movie which barely registers that one of its main characters thinks heís a pirate, sits squarely in the latter category.
Although Stiller dominates the film, Vince Vaughn takes the lead role. He plays Pete, a laid-back gym owner who doesnít bother to collect fees from the five misfits who comprise his membership.
As a result, heís about to lose the gym to his rival, Stiller, whose fascistic Globo Gym urges customers to hate themselves enough to change. In the end, ownership will be decided by which of their teams wins the national Dodgeball championship.
Sounds ridiculous? Well of course it is, and thatís precisely why itís so funny. One of the teamís training methods is to dodge traffic on a motorway. In their first match, the championship rules somehow oblige them to wear S&M outfits.
As well as being absurd, this is also a shamelessly lowbrow film -- an asset for the most part, assuming you like slapstick, although it does lead to a few crass moments: in a film whose message is one of self-acceptance, the fat jokes seem misjudged.
Vaughn is charming in a tricky role requiring him to play completely straight, while everything around him is insane. Stiller appears at his tightly-wound best, although he gets too much screen time for what is a fairly one-dimensional part.
However, these are minor quibbles, for Dodgeball comes across as hilarious comedy in the Saturday Night Live tradition. This "Ben Stiller" film, as broad as Happy Gilmore and as funny as Starsky & Hutch, should not be missed.
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG-13" for crude and sexual humor and language.)