Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, and language (I'd rate it R)
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Justin Long, Rip Torn, Stephen Root, Joel David Moore, Chris Williams, Alan Tudyk, Missi Pyle, Jamal E. Duff, Gary Cole, Jason Bateman
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenplay: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Rawson Marshall Thurber may be a first-time big screen writer-director, but he had already made a splash in sports comedy with a series of television commercials for Reebok called, "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker". Thurber started off wanting to make a film like those he grew up on -- silly, but immensely funny sports comedies like Caddyshack, Bull Durham, and The Bad News Bears. What made these films stand out was that the humor was more important than the sport, the sport itself merely used as a springboard for great comedy. The game of dodgeball, mostly a schoolyard activity, is not really that great of a sport, but because of its childish reputation and the undercurrent of physical cruelty, there is just something humorous about watching it, and like his commercial spots, Thurber uses these elements to his comedic advantage.
Vince Vaughn (Swingers, Old School) plays Peter LaFleur, owner of a modest gym called Average Joe's, who are struggling to keep their clientele from going to bigger, more high-tech gyms like Globo Gym, which is run by pumped fitness guru, White Goodman (Stiller, Along Came Polly). With foreclosure looming, LaFleur has 30 days to come up with $50,000 or lose his gym to Goodman, but things look bleak as there appears to be no way to amass that kind of cash in such a limited amount of time. They have one last chance, a longshot opportunity to gain $50,000 for competing and winning a dodgeball competition in Las Vegas. With the help of their sympathetic bank agent, Kate (Taylor, Zoolander), they hit the circuit in hopes of saving the establishment that has meant so much for the average joes of the community, but Goodman gets wind of their plans, coming up with his own team of dodgeball experts to stop them from succeeding.
Like many screwball comedies, this is critic-proof, as the non-stop barrage of jokes may be hilarious to some while nauseatingly bad to another viewer. As for me, there wasn't much to the flick other than the amusing premise, but I'm giving it a recommendation for one reason: it made me laugh quite a bit. Regardless of what you think of the intelligence level of much of the humor, it is still a fun film to watch, and the ensemble of comedic actors perform perfectly with the tone of Thurber's ambitious script, ad-libbing when necessary to achieve the best and funniest results possible.
Vaughn is the straight-man in this crowd of wild eccentrics, but still quite funny, and Stiller finally cuts completely loose in his first non-nebbish performance since Zoolander. The rest of the cast of character actors has some appeal, but many of them get their laughs for playing characters that are just so ridiculous, you have to laugh. Alan Tudyk (A Knight's Tale, 28 Days) plays Steve, a guy who thinks he is a pirate for reasons only known to himself, while Jason Bateman (Teen Wolf Too) gives his role as color commentator for ESPN 8 (aka "The Ocho") an unnecessary (but still funny) wacky appeal.
Dodgeball is a lowbrow endeavor that probably will upset the more politically correct viewers, or those who dislike anything but the most sophisticated of comedies. However, for less discriminating viewers, Thurber concoction should hit the right spot -- the funny bone, most likely. Like the films that Thurber emulates, this should definitely fall into the cult comedy category, and become another fan favorite sports movie to delight the "average joes" of the film-watching world.
©2004 Vince Leo