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Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

dodgeball

Movie review by Greg Carlson

A thoroughly funny David vs. Goliath comedy, “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” delivers a steady supply of laughs both subtle and vulgar. Buoyed by a cast of sensational comedic actors, including Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Rip Torn, Stephen Root, and Gary Cole, “Dodgeball” hits its mark early and often, as it follows the fortunes and misfortunes of a hapless group of adults as they pummel each other in the faces, chests, and groins while playing a competitive version of the barbaric elementary-school game that has added new depth and dimension to our understanding of exclusion and humiliation.

Stiller riffs gleefully on his Derek Zoolander character, this time remaking him as White Goodman, an oily, narcissistic health club owner sporting an outrageously feathered hairdo matched only in weirdness by the inflatable codpiece in his workout spandex. Looking to steamroll his only competition, a grungy, dilapidated gym called Average Joe’s, Goodman is set to pounce as soon as imminent foreclosure lowers the curtain. Peter LaFleur (Vaughn, wisely playing it low-key), the owner of Average Joe’s, hasn’t collected membership dues in some time, but his loyal gym rats – a collection of goofballs, freaks, nerds, and lovable losers – refuse to let their hangout close without a fight.

Hatching a loony scheme to raise the fifty grand needed to keep the gym alive, Peter’s pals organize a competitive dodgeball team, hoping to qualify for a Las Vegas tournament that will net the winner the exact amount of cash needed to save Average Joe’s. Coached by an aged, wheelchair-bound dodgeball legend named Patches O’Houlihan (Torn), who enjoys hurling wrenches at the heads of players as a form of training, the Average Joe’s team shapes up enough to hold their own. When they are joined by Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor), the lawyer assigned to the foreclosure proceedings, her blazing underhand throwing style kicks their game up a much-needed notch.

First-time writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber keeps things moving quickly enough to maintain the attention of his target audience, but the script includes plenty of witty one-liners and clever pop-culture references as well. Once Peter’s team makes it to Vegas for the inevitable showdown with Goodman’s Purple Cobras, the movie erupts with dizzying absurdity: ESPN 8 (hilariously nicknamed “the Ocho”) is broadcasting the tourney, and this section of the film is delivered precisely like a mind-numbing cable TV showcase. Best of all is the pairing of Gary Cole and Jason Bateman as brilliantly-named on-air commentators Cotton McKnight and Pepper Brooks. Taking a page out of Christopher Guest’s “Best in Show” playbook, the duo’s idiotic banter reminds viewers of Fred Ward’s inane announcer, with the laughs to match.

Sure, more could have been done to develop the relationship between Kate and Peter (even though it does have a giddy payoff), but Thurber knows that more audience members will enjoy the comic schadenfreude unleashed by rubber balls smashing into faces at maximum velocity. The brackets of the tournament are executed quickly, but it is great fun to examine the oddities supplied by opposing squads (the hip-hop crew Skillz That Killz in their powder blue track suits, Team Blitzkrieg, driven by their passion for David Hasselhoff, etc.) as they face off against Peter’s plucky bunch. “Dodgeball” will never be mistaken for a great motion picture, but as far as summer fun goes, it’s got a lot of bounce.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 6/21/04.

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