Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
"Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" is a stupid comedy made smart by
debuting writer-dir ector Rawson Marshall Thurber's wit-filled, good-natured
hold on the material. The film, which is a cross between David Zucker's
underapprectiated 1998 gem, "BASEketball," and 1988's "Major League,"
takes practically every convention of the sports genre possible and
makes it feel fresh with a zippy pace, likable actors clearly having
a blast, and often on-target comic timing. There's nothing deep or
meaningful about any of it, but then, there isn't supposed to be.
For fans of strictly low-brow humor, "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story"
will come as a godsend.
Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn) is the nice-guy owner of a lowly local
gym called Average Joe's that is constantly being upstaged by Globo
Gym, the high-tech, ultra-snooty corporate fitness club across the
street. When he is told by kindly lawyer Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor)
that he has thirty days to come up with the $50,000 needed to get
himself out of debt, or risk losing the place to make way for a Globo
Gym parking garage, Peter is ready to throw in the towel. With the
help of his few loyal misfit members, however, including teenage chearleader-wannabe
Justin (Justin Long), the aptly-named Steve the Pirate (Alan Tudyk),
and the terminally cheerful Gordon (Stephen Root), they formulate
an idea. If Peter and his friends can make it to Las Vegas to compete
in a national dodgeball tournament and win, the grand prize is $50,000.
What they don't expect is that they will have to play against White
Goodman (Ben Stiller), the health-and-self-obsessed owner of Globo
Gym, and his minions. Along the way, Kate, who has eight years of
softball training under her belt, begins to sympathize with Peter's
cause and joins their team.
Above all else, "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" is a genuine crowd-pleaser
(given one isn't easily offended), more than willing to be downright
sophomoric in the name of garnering big laughs. Although there are
a fair share of comedic misses, and at least ten too many ball-in-the-groin-style
jokes, writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber has filled his screenplay
with enough clever one-liners, downright outrageous asides, and off-the-wall
surprise cameo appearances that it is easy to wade through the rough patches.
Although it would be criminal to spoil the picture's funniest moments,
look out for a 1950's educational video on dodgeball that Justin nabs
from his P.E. class, which skewers the ridiculousness of such short
films to hilarious perfection; the elderly, wheelchair-bound Patches
O'Houlihan (Rip Torn), once a dodgeball champion who teaches the "sport"
to Peter and the gang by throwing wrenches at them and making them
dodge traffic on a busy city street; and a locker room mix-up at the
Las Vegas championships that forces the Average Joe's to wear some
highly compromising uniforms. Meanwhile, Cotton McKnight (Gary Cole)
and sidekick Pepper Brooks (Jason Bateman) take the roles of two of
the most off-color, dim-witted commentat ors to ever show up in a
sports comedy. And don't even thinking about leaving before the end
credits have rolled; the coda is one of the most perverse and ingeniously
funny in recent memory.
Vince Vaughn is typecast so frequently as the heavy (i.e. 2004's "Starsky
& Hutch," 2001's "Domestic Disturbance") that it is sometimes difficult
to remember just how charming he can be as the lead protagonist. Here,
as the lovable Peter La Fleur, whose neglect in charging membership
fees to his gym customers has left him broke, Vaughn is at the top
of his game. Likewise, Ben Stiller is so often the romantic lead (i.e.
2004's "Along Came Polly," 2003's "Duplex," 2000's "Meet the Pare
nts") that it is a veritable treat to see him go deliciously over-the-top
as the daffily psychotic White Goodman. Take his character of Zoolander,
who was in love with himself, and take out all of his attributes,
and you'll have a good idea of how Stiller plays the part.
The rest of the cast performs their duties with engaging vigor, including
Christine Taylor (2001's "Zoolander") as the unicorn-obsessed Kate
Veatch; a standout Rip Torn (2002's "Freddy Got Fingered") as the
no-nonsense Patches O'Houlihan; Justin Long (2001's "Jeepers Creepers")
as teenage "queer-bait" Justin; and Stephen Root, as Gordon, in the
most memorable role he's had since 1999's incendiary "Office Space."
As seems to usua lly be the case with comedies, "Dodgeball: A True
Underdog Story" hits some potholes as it nears its finish. A third-act
conflict that arises, although holding a purpose in the long run,
halts up the laughs for a little too long. Luckily, it comes back
for a rousing final few scenes, including an unexpected discovery
about Kate that is admittedly quite brave for this kind of lighter-than-air
entertainment. For viewers already growing weary of this summer's
special effects extravaganzas and who just want to laugh for 90 minutes
without having to think too much, the no-holds-barred "Dodgeball:
A True Underdog Story" will happily do the trick.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman