Grab life by the ball.
Rawson Marshall Thurber
Running Time: 92 minutes
US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a
Country: United States
If you have seen one American film about sport (or dancing, or pretty much anything related to competitiveness), you have seen them all, because in these films, unlike in real sports, the code is always observed and the rules are never broken. There MUST be an underdog, that underdog MUST have some kind of rivalry with the opposing team/player that is personal as well as professional, and the underdog MUST win against all odds. The sports film formula, you see, is there to instil no lesser ideology than the American dream itself, whereby if you are only able to show true grit and determination, there is nothing you cannot achieve, and everyone’s a winner, baby (apart from the losers you just wiped the floor with, of course).
Rawson Marshall Thurber’s ‘Dodgeball: A True Under Dog Story’ takes all these big dumb sports clichés and turns them into a big dumb comedy. A run-down gym called Average Joe’s is going to be seized by the banks unless its owner, amiable slacker Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughan), can come up with $50,000 in a month – and White Goodman (Ben Stiller), vain owner of the corporate ‘Globo-Gym’ across the street, is set on appropriating it into his fascistic sports empire. So Peter’s no-hoper regulars, including a grown man (Alan Tudyk) who thinks he is a pirate (“Gar, Joe’s be the only place for Steve”), decide on the spur of the moment to form a dodgeball team (even though they have never played before) and to play in the national competition at Las Vegas, where the prize money just so happens to be $50,000. White quickly forms a rival team, and it seems that Peter and his friends, despite being helped by wheelchair-bound coach Patches O’Houlihan (Rip Torn) and fast-throwing lawyer/love interest Kate (Christine Taylor), cannot possibly win – which of course means that they MUST…
Described at one point in the film as a game that separates “the awkwardly feminine from the possibly Canadian”, dodgeball involves trying to pelt your opponents with a hard ball rather than letting them evade or catch it – in other words, it is a hit-and-miss affair, much like the comedy in this film. Just about every kind of humour imaginable is on show – there is parody (especially in White’s cheaply glossy infomercials and the dodgeball commentators’ inconsequential chatter), gross-out, innuendo, madcap surrealism, fat-jokes, postmodernism (David Hasselhoff as the German team’s coach, William Shatner as the dodgeball chancellor, and Chuck Norris as, um, himself), even occasional verbal wit – and of course the endless slapstick possibilities raised by the sight of adults being hit hard by flying objects. The problem is, not all of it is actually funny, and it is difficult to escape the feeling that the real sport being played here is less dodgeball, and more shooting at fish in a barrel.
Vince Vaughn is just the right mixture of snide and lovable, making for a charismatically low-key hero, but Ben Stiller, with his handlebar moustache, big-hair and inflatable underpants, plays his rôle as though the only prize he wants to win is for best ham, testing the viewer’s patience beyond endurance. In this year alone Stiller has appeared in Along Came Polly, Starsky and Hutch and Duplex, and he is about to be seen in ‘Envy’ – perhaps his annoying performance in ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story’ is a sign that he needs to slow down and learn to say no.
It's Got: "A David and Goliath story truer than the Bible itself".
It Needs: Certainly not more jokes, but much sharper ones.
In this goofball sportsfilm spoof there is something for everyone to laugh at – but a few too many cringeworthy own-goals.