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If you can dodge a wrench... (Film only review)
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (DVD)
Advantages: funny, undemanding, silly (in a good way!)
Disadvantages: predictable, pointless cameo from Lance Armstrong
Faced with losing his run-down gym to arch-rival White Goodman, Peter La Fleur tries to win £50,000 by entering a Dodgeball tournament. However, Goodman plans to stop him by entering his own team.
Hollywood Comedy Fratpackers Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller lead the way as Peter La Fleur and White Goodman respectively. Vaughn is OK, but seems to be on autopilot, playing his usual charming but slightly bumbling character. Stiller, on the other hand, is in fine form, playing against type as the nasty, aggressive and arrogant White Goodman. Stiller, sporting a 70s style moustache really hams it up and is clearly enjoying himself.
Stealing the show, though, is Rip Torn as Patches O’Houlihan, former dodgeball champion and would-be coach of La Fleur’s team. Although very limited in terms of screen time. O’Houlihan is the most fun character and many of the laughs come from his interaction with the players. Played partly as a crazed Vietnam Vet and partly as an unrepentant sadist, this is Rip Torn’s best role since Z in Men in Black. One thing’s for certain, it’s O’Houlihan’s catchphrase you’ll be quoting after the film (“if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball”).
The rest of the cast are filled with (then) relatively unknown actors, comprising the usual bunch of underdog mis-fits. Although these are clichés (the geek, the weak-willed fat man etc.), there’s still a lot of comedy to be mined from the way they work together.
Dodgeball is one of those gloriously silly films that it’s really hard not to like. In fact, it’s slightly sickening that Ben Stiller seems to have put this film together in a spare few minutes between making Starsky and Hutch and Meet the Fockers!
It’s not a clever film: there are no complex set-ups or complicated jokes. It’s simple slapstick humour – the kind of thing Hollywood used to do so well, but seems to have lost in the haze of overblown special effects. The humour comes from the ridiculousness of its characters and the way they interact with each other. For example, one of the team fails to realise that “Steve the Pirate” dresses and talks like a pirate and doesn’t know who his team mates are talking about. Later in the film, when Steve (minus all his pirate gear) appears, the same character says “Hey everyone, look. It’s Steve the Pirate!” OK, it may not sound like much when written down, but when you watch the film, it’s a great gag and typical of some of the humour.
Much of the comedy, however, comes through the humiliation of the key characters – and for once, both sides are humiliated in more or less equal measure. White Goodman’s preening peacock has an all too literal love affair with food and his Dodgeball team – the Purple Cobras – have a ridiculous pre-match ritual. Equally, the training sequences for La Fleur’s team are brilliant, with the sadistic Patches O’Houlihan toughening up his bunch of losers in the only way he knows how – by inflicting pain! It’s visual humour at its most stupid – if you find people being repeatedly hit by flying wrenches funny, this is the film for you!
That’s not to say humour isn’t mined from other sources, though. The old training film explaining the rules of Dodgeball is hilarious and, though very brief, is one of the high points of the film. It’s simultaneously nostalgic for a by-gone age, whilst also poking fun at the naivety of that age. It also serves as a useful plot device to explain the rules of Dodgeball to the audience in a humorous and entertaining way.
As with many sports films, the most fun and entertainment is to be had from the training sequences. Once it comes to the actual tournament, the plot necessarily has to take over in order to take the film to its inevitable climax. That’s not to say that it becomes unfunny, however. In particular, the introduction of a new character – Jason Bateman’s stoner commentator Pepper Brooks (all vacuous comments and pointless observations) is hilarious and performs the same role for the second part of the film that Patches O’Houlihan did for the first part.
The film is very short (just 92 minutes), which means that you never have chance to get bored and the film whizzes along at a silly pace in keeping with the rest of the film. True, the ending probably feels a little rushed, with all the loose ends being neatly tied up in about 2 minutes flat, but this doesn’t matter too much, because it’s the humour, not the plot which counts!
Although this is technically a sport film, it really is a comedy which just happens to set at a sporting event. Stiller very sensibly uses the Dodgeball tournament as the background for the film, not its central theme. The matches are kept very short, whizzing through the qualifying rounds and even the semi-final and final are fairly short. So, if you don’t like traditional sports films, don’t worry. Whilst there are a few sports-related jokes (comments on its pointlessness or the “win at all costs” attitude of some people), these are limited. The only mis-step in this regard is a pointless cameo from Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong. Whilst Armstrong appears comfortable enough on camera, his scene feels forced, as though it was included just so that Ben Stiller could show off some of his celebrity mates.
The only other real criticism of the film is that there isn’t a shred of originality in its basic premise of bunch of likeable losers taking on and beating superior, but evil opponents. The characters are lazy stereotypes with no development arc at all (or where there is, it’s obvious where they are heading.) Equally, the plot is hugely predictable and you’ll know what’s going to happen right from the start. But hey, who cares about the final destination being so predictable when the journey itself is so much fun!
A gloriously silly film that should appeal to anyone who enjoys slapstick style humour and wants to laugh at pompous “win at all costs” fools!
Dodgeball: a true underdog story
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Running Time: approx. 92 minutes
-- The young Patches O’Houlihan in the training film is played by Hank Azaria, who voices many of the Simpsons characters.
Summary: A great, undemanding hour and a half!