Dodgeball

June, 2004, Comedy

Directed by:Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring:Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor, Ben Stiller, Rip Torn, Justin Long and , and Chuck Norris

It's silly. It's gross. It's sophomoric and often downright moronic. Most surprisingly of all, at times it’s the funniest movie thus far this year. Here’s another cheaply made There's Something About Mary knock-off, released on the same day as the expensive re-make of Around The World in 80 Days? The fact that Dodgeball easily captured the biggest audience suggests American audiences aren't as dumb as Hollywood often assumes they are…

The plot, (if you can call it that) is simplicity itself; Vince Vaughn plays Peter La Fleur, a laid-back gym owner/manager who's forced to enter his misfit health club clients in a dodgeball tournament in order to keep his dilapidated facility from falling into the clutches of arch-rival White Goodman, (Ben Stiller). La Fleur doesn't appear to have trained for much of anything in his whole life; he's magnificently unqualified; (think of Bill Murray in any of his early roles). On the other hand, Goodman, pumped up on copious quantities of steroids and his own ego, constitutes a one-man Olympic team in the making.     

There's a girl they both chase, a wheelchair-bound lunatic coach, (Rip Torn) who whips La Fleur's sad sack clients into shape and a collection of the most idiotic team names to grace any sports flick in recent memory. Vaughn plays La Fleur with good-natured charm, going along to get along; his consistent refusal to denigrate the abilities of his misfit team-mates stands in stark contrast to Goodman's hyper gonzo crew, long on brawn yet pitifully short on brain-power. Stiller plays this food-deprived nut-case with hilarious, scenery-chewing frustration, creating a villain at once so preposterous and nasty the audience naturally cheers for every terrible thing that happens to him. As a result, Dodgeball resembles a life-action version of the old Road Runner/Wiley E. Coyote cartoons, with dialogue so clever and so quickly thrown away you'll have to really concentrate on the soundtrack to get your fair share of it.

While not as deliciously vile as Bad Santa, Dodgeball has enough loopy energy and deranged enthusiasm for its principal target, (the physical fitness crowd) to provide plenty of zingers to those who take the molding of their physiques too seriously.  When Goodman plants a big slice of pizza on his groin rather than in his mouth, first time director Rawson Thurber provides his audiences with a telling observation about the similarities between our appetites for food and sex. 

Bad cheerleaders, Eastern European female athletes with bad teeth and furry eyebrows, ESPN-like sportscasters reminiscent of the pair in Best of Show, athletic supporters enhanced with compressed air--Dodgeball has them all, along with sufficient shrewdness not to dwell too long on any one gag, however promising it might be.

The verdict? This one may just be the best "guilty pleasure" of 2004.

  

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