2004Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor
Can one allow himself to enjoy a movie that is wholly unoriginal and clumsily executed? Does a writer excuse his script’s utter lack of cohesion or direction simply through self-awareness? Can I see another thinly veiled commercial for this movie posing as an interview or news without crushing my remote into sharp pieces of plastic so that I can gouge out my own eyes? See Answer Key Below.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is about as formulaic a movie as one could imagine. In the vein of Animal House and more recently Old School, the new Ben Stiller/Vince Vaughn offering takes a rag-tag bunch of losers, presents them with the crisis of losing their hangout, and launches them into an improbable journey that culminates with their triumphant victory over an over-the-top villain. Oh wait, are you angry that I gave away the ending? If you can read, but did not know the outcome of this story by the previews alone, get in line for your lobotomy, we might as well finish off the remaining few functional synapses . . . oh, and don’t forget your drool bib.
"I'm telling you, dude, you've gotta start working out if you want to get back to Swingers-era Vince."
The plot, such as it is, is secondary in these types of movies anyway. Crazy characters, sight gags, one-liners, and cameos are the main fuel of Dodgeball and its ilk; by that standard, virgin writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber gets most of the important stuff right. There are enough cheap laughs in Dodgeball to call it a success, for the genre. The amount of thievery perpetrated by Thurber, however, is a little disturbing. One of the funnier cameo/sight gags of the movie is completely ripped off from Norm MacDonald’s standup and SNL material. Also, Jason Bateman’s character and performance bites Fred Willard’s entire career. Thurber knows he can get away with aping the star of Best in Show, because he knows the cross section of the population that can identify Fred Willard and will watch Dodgeball is minute. Both the cameo and Bateman are funny, but leave the observant viewer feeling a little guilty for laughing.
Also annoying is Thurber’s sheepish admission of plot holes. At the end of the film, an object that represents the salvation of Vaughn and his misfits carries the label, “Deus Ex Machina.” Is the viewer supposed to congratulate himself for being able to understand the phrase or forgive Thurber’s laziness as a screenwriter? Either way, the audience member’s ass in a theater seat should be enough of an OK for the director to sleep at night. Make a stupid comedy, throw in random plot developments, but understand that the knowing smile routine wears thin quickly.
The Glee Club afterschool workout.
Regardless of the writer’s lack of shame, the success of a comedy often comes down to its cast. In Dodgeball, performances are mixed, with minor characters outshining the main stars. Vaughn’s everyman is underwritten but solidly rendered, whilst Stiller’s maniacal, self-loathing gym entrepreneur lumbers about oafishly. Stiller and his repetitive mugging are undoubtedly the worst aspects of the flick. Character actor Stephen Root (Jimmy James on NewsRadio) and the rest of the “Average Joes” team do good work in one-dimensional roles. Rip Torn deserves special mention for his portrayal of coach and dodgeball great, Patches O’Houlihan. Torn’s delivery coupled with the left-field nature of his character is enough to steal this show.
The ubiquitous previews for Dodgeball should give the potential viewer a fairly accurate read on his eventual appraisal of the flick. People going for a good time and ninety minutes of escape will be pleased, and those who are concerned Dodgeball won’t be able to meet even those meager expectations will most likely be pleasantly surprised. Not great art, not great comedy, but a good time.
Answers: Yes, no, and God I hope so or else I’ll be writing for the music section next week on a Braille keyboard.
By: Kevin Worrall
Published on: 2004-06-23