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DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY
U.S. Release Date: June 18, 2004
Distributor: Fox
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Writer: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Producer: Ben Stiller
Composer: Theodore Shapiro
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Justin Long, Joel David Moore, Jason Bateman (Cameo)
Running Time: 1 hour and 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (or rude and sexual humor, and language)

A Rubber Ball
by C.A. Wolski

Inhabiting the weird parallel comic universe usually reserved for Saturday Night Live vehicles, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is a mixed bag of outrageous humor, sweet moments and offensive clunkers. All this is set in a world that plays by its own skewed comic rules which exist for the benefit of the story, not logic.

The set up, reminiscent of this year's Barbershop 2, finds Peter LeFleur (Vince Vaughn), owner of the dingy Average Joe's Gym, the target of a hostile takeover by the outrageous, Nazi-like fitness guru White Goodman (Ben Stiller), owner of Globo Gym. The two gyms sited on opposite sides of the same street can't be any different. Average Joe's caters to the weird, geeky and unloved. Globo Gym is, as the infomercial that opens the movie declares, a place for the beautiful and superior.

For some reason, not made very clear in the movie other than the fact that White is a big jerk, Peter wants to save his gym and enlists his goofy cronies, headed up by obscure sports addict Gordon (Stephen Root), to help him. The initial efforts, which include a vaguely obscene car wash (with the geeks in Speedos), are not too successful. The only hope Peter has to raise the requisite $50,000 he needs is to win the National Dodgeball championship, which, conveniently, has a $50,000 first prize.

The funniest parts of Dodgeball revolve around the schoolyard game, including a 1950's dodgeball training film and an extended training sequence involving dodgeball champion Patches O'Houlihan (Rip Torn) putting the goofballs through their paces. When the guys start playing for real, things get really silly. There's something inherently funny about watching grownups play a school kid's game that writer/director Rawson Marshall Thruber exploits to the max.

However, Dodgeball is far from a comic gem. There are two fundamental problems. The first is the uneven plot. Many of the scenes are funny in and of themselves, but there is a lack of overall cohesiveness and progression—we get to the final dodgeball games more through inertia than through any sense of clear purpose. There are several plot twists, particularly at the end, that don't make much sense (true, it's a gross out comedy and not Shakespeare, but it should have some logic).

Another problem is that the characters have no overall story arc. The guys—including a doofus who thinks he's a pirate, a high school male cheerleader wannabe and a lovelorn goof—all grow and learn something about themselves, but the revelations come out of the blue. There's no reason why the pirate should come to his senses, the cheerleader should save the day and the loveless should find love other than it's just the way this sort of picture is supposed to be told.

Further tarnishing the picture is Stiller. He's just not funny or menacing. His White Goodman is so gross and creepy that nobody in their right mind would want to work out with him or take part in his evil schemes.

That said, Dodgeball has some big laughs, a lot of fun cameos from the likes of William Shatner and Chuck Norris, and there's the spectacle of rubber balls (and even wrenches) smacking people in the face.


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