A film review by Craig J. Koban


2004, PG-13, 85 mins.

Peter La Fleur: Vince Vaughn / White Goodman: Ben Stiller / Kate Veatch: Christine Taylor / Patches O'Houlihan: Rip Torn / Justin: Justin Long / Gordon: Stephen Root / Owen: Joel David Moore / Dwight: Chris Williams / Steve the Pirate: Alan Tudyk

Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

Dodgeball- A True Underdog Story Mini PosterDodgeball is a sport of  “violence, exclusion, and degradation.”  At least, that’s how its referred to as in a painfully funny 1938 instructional video that is the comic high point in DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY.  I think what makes this film truly humorous is just how seriously it takes the sport of Dodgeball, so seriously that two competing gyms face off against one another in a winner-take-all, $50,000 Dodgeball tournament that takes place in Las Vegas and is covered by ESPN8 (“If its almost a sport, then we will cover it!”).    DODGEBALL may not be a sophisticated film (it's ridiculously silly) and has several scenes that fall flat, but it’s surly a very, very funny 90 minutes.  

DODGEBALL is essentially a David versus Goliath story pitting two rival gyms versus one another.  In the film’s case, it’s the super multi-million-dollar muscle emporium known as Globo Gym, run by the super egotistical and workout crazy White Goodman (Ben Stiller) versus the run down and financially ruined gym, Average Joe's, run by Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn). 

La Fleur’s gym is so run down, so in debt, and so debilitated that it’s in serious danger of losing itself to Goodman and his Globo Gym monopoly.  In fact, the only way that Average Joe’s can be kept alive is to raise $50,000 to pay for it’s past rent debts.  Of course, Goodman wants the gym to do to it what all megalomaniacs do: convert it into a parking lot for his Globo Gym customers.  The only way to save the gym now…is to play that ultimate sport of degradation. 

The sport of Dodgeball (and I use the term “sport” ever so loosely) is something I think we all can remember from grade school - a recreational activity developed by some sadistic individuals who felt like formulating a simple contest in which the big and strong are able to completely pummel and dominate the meager and weak.  As a matter of fact, the film reinforces this.  As the members of Average Joe’s find out in the 1930’s instructional video, the only way to win is to “pick only the biggest and strongest” to be on your team and to always follow the “5 D’s of Dodgeball: Dodge, Dive, Duck, dip…and Dodge.”  No wonder that this is a “true underdog story”.  One member of the Average Joe’s thinks he’s a pirate, another member does not notice this fact, and another has aspirations of being a male cheerleader. 

Globo Gym is a gym on super steroids, a place where only attractive people are allowed to go (their motto is, “Here at Globo Gym, we’re not only are better than you, we know it!") and where you can even get liposuction for a marginal fee.  Goodman, its owner, is played by cinema’s new comic kingpin, Ben Stiller, who overacts to the point of making Jim Carrey blush.  He is such a sadist in his egotism that he paints the walls with photos and portraits of himself, is surrounded by seven foot muscle bound bodybuilders 24/7, and even has an inflatable cod piece to inflict the pain of intimidation on those weaker that him.  Stiller is so hilarious that he seems to make overacting a kind of poetic and well-timed art form.  If Zoolander, Fabio, and Arnold Schwarzenegger had a love child, then it would most assuredly be White Goodman.  Stiller proves here, once again, why he is the funniest man in films today. 

Vince Vaughn, on the other hand, plays the straight man to Stiller’s wild and obnoxious antics.  His Average Joe’s owner is essentially a straight shooter who, unfortunately, is not given terribly much to do in the film other than to react to the craziness that ensues and to ensure that the plot meanders forward.  That’s a shame, considering that Vaughn is insanely funny at playing jerks and wise guys.  Here, he feels underused, confined, and surprisingly stiff.  If you are expecting that Vaughn comic touch of genius from SWINGERS, MADE, or OLD SCHOOL, you will be seriously underwhelmed here. 

This is not to say that DODGEBALL is not a good comic romp.  For every joke or pratfall that falls terribly short, there are about five others that work famously.  I especially enjoyed, as previously mentioned, the instructional video that explains the origins of Dodgeball (it began in ancient Chinese opium dens…didn’t know that!). That video was hosted by legendary Dodgeballer Patches O'Houlihan.  He later reappears in the present and is played with great hilarity by Rip Torn, who essentially volunteers to train the ragtag team at the Average Joes.  His training methods are so unorthodox that even Mr. Miyagi would revel in envy.  “If you can doge a wrench, you can dodge a ball,” Patches deadpans.  When one of the players is disturbed by Patches training methods and asks if they are necessary, Patches politely responds, “Is it necessary for me to drink my own urine? Probably not, but I do it anyways.  It's sterile and I like the taste.” 

DODGEBALL may be aiming for satire, but there is a lot in the vein of conventional comedy and sight gags, and most of the time it pulls this off fairly consistently.  I especially liked the final act of the film that shows the concluding tournament.  The teams are unorthodox, to say the least.  Team names range from The MILFS, THE LUMBER JACKS, and so forth.  The other teams really don’t matter, because this all leads to the final showdown between Globo Gym and Average Joe’s.  What is especially funny is the play-by-play and color commentary provided by Cotton McKnight (OFFICE SPACE manager Gary Cole) and Pepper Brooks (1980’s TV star Jason Bateman).  A couple of hilarious examples of their inept commentary:

Cotton McKnight:

It looks as if the Average Joe's do not have enough players to compete, they will have to forfeit this game.  


Pepper Brooks:

This is a risky strategy Cotton, lets see if it pays off.


Cotton McKnight

In my 23 years of broadcasting I have never seen anything like this. It seems as if Peter La Fleur has blindfolded himself! 


Pepper Brooks:

This will make it hard for him to see Cotton. 

There are also some wickedly funny cameos, one of which garnered the film’s biggest laugh as he attempts to motivate the German Team at the tournament (hint: he’s a huge singing star in Germany).   

DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY is an ultimate success as it is able to be funny and be consistently funny for its 90 minutes, and this, to me, is the true sign of a winning comedy.  It highlights Ben Stiller at the height of his comic form and takes an athletic event that, to many, could not be stretched out into a film and make it fairly entertaining.  Sure, some of jokes don’t work, but a majority of them do, and essentially what we are left with is a silly comic romp that put a smile on my face and made me laugh out loud considerably.  What, prêt ell, do we expect otherwise?

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