Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

Jun 23, 2004 at 12:00 am

Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) is a lovable loser with a heart of gold who owns Average Joe’s Gym. At the gym, he encourages and advises his oddball clientele; Justin wants to be a cheerleader, Gordon is a doormat, Owen is an idiot, and Steve the Pirate is, uh, convinced he’s a pirate.

Through his bank’s lawyer, LaFleur learns that his old nemesis, White Goodman (Ben Stiller), CEO of GloboGym, is plotting to take over Average Joe’s and replace it with a parking structure. With the unexpected help of the lovely attorney, the nerds pull together a dodgeball team in a desperate attempt to pay off looming debts and save the gym.

This kind of save-the-farm-from-the-mustachioed-bad-guy premise is just a framework for gags throughout the film. Mercifully, the plot’s exposition is as fast-paced as the climactic game scenes; the film clocks in at about 100 minutes.

Dodgeball flirts with tame social content (any film about the geeks teaming up to get the jocks is bound to have some post-Columbine potency). Yes, sometimes the jocks in Dodgeball sneer with contempt at the losers. But the geeks are led by jockish LaFleur, who is actually manlier than Goodman, an androgynous little guy with a Napoleonic complex. In fact, what poses as a revolt of the picked-on against their cruel peers is actually loaded with locker-room gags and some particularly nasty, towel-snapping jokes about hairy women and foreigners.

Dodgeball abounds in earthy vulgarity, gonadal sight gags and crude slapstick, notably including cruelty intended to evoke laughter. See a middle-aged man double over in pain after being kicked in the nuts. Hear the smacking sounds as a teenager extricates his head from a fat girl’s vagina. Chuckle as people are repeatedly pelted with wrenches. Laugh as Girl Scouts get knocked flat on their asses. (It all makes sense when you consider that it’s written and directed by the guy who did those commercials with office workers getting knocked flat by a burly linebacker.)

The film is an effective vehicle for Stiller, who gives his usual, forced-over-the-top-performance. But with Stiller as the comedic villain, we get Vaughn as a straight man protagonist, which slows down the comedy. Well, at least some of the actors seem to be enjoying themselves, including the nerds. Rip Torn steals the show as Patches O’Houlihan, a grizzled, somewhat-demented dodgeball veteran, at least until his character is abruptly dispatched.

Some of the better gags have a postmodern humor, making fun of the stilted editing of industrial productions, the over-jazzed graphics of professional sports or the creepy conformism of ephemeral films. A host of bizarre cameos make for moments of fun, including those by Lance Armstrong, William Shatner, Chuck Norris and David Hasselhoff.

Anyway, if you like seeing people hit in the face, ass and groin with balls and wrenches, you’re going to love Dodgeball.

Michael Jackman is a writer and copy editor for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].