Vince Vaughn is the actor that is most like everybody's beer drinking buddy. He is the guy that everybody wants to hang out with. Ben Stiller has been in a ton of comedies and is one of the more bankable comedic actors. The two men have both had very good careers, but their comedy and typically two very different tastes and where Vaughn's comedy is a little more ‘realistic' in tone, whereas Stiller lands in slapstick roles where a lot of his comedy is surrounded in absurd situations. They come together for the Rawson Marshall Thurber comedy "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" and help the writer and director of the cult Reebok short "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker" make the leap from commercials to the big screen. With Thurber being a Hollywood rookie and Vaughn and Stiller being to very different but bankable stars, "Dodgeball" was destined to be a huge success or a massive failure.
To capitalize on the different personas of the two different leading men, Vaughn and Stiller are portrayed as rivals that each have traits reminiscent of the way each actor is portrayed. Vaughn has always been an ‘everyman' kind of actor in Hollywood that the average Joe can relate to. So in "Dodgeball" Vaughn is cast as Peter LaFleur, the owner of Average Joe's gym. He lets anybody who wants to walk through his doors exercise or hang out in the gym and typically doesn't even care to collect membership fees. Ben Stiller is a larger than life character in most of his films and his bigger persona is embodied as White Goodman, a entrepreneur who combines technology with image to create a powerhouse franchise where his image is more important that those that visit his gyms.
Goodman's gym Globo-Gym is looking to buy out Average Joes when Peter begins to have financial problems. The foreclosure attorney Kate (Christine Taylor) meets with Peter and announces that Average Joes will be closed if he cannot earn $50,000 in a month. To make the money to save his gym, Gordon ("Office Space" actor Stephen Root) mentions a dodgeball competition that conveniently pays out $50,000 to the winning team. Peter and Gordon create a team along with other gym regulars Steve (Alan Tudyk) and Justin (Justin Long). They are approached by legendary dodgeball hero Patches O'Houlihan (Rip Torn), who is not wheelchair bound, and the former world champion begins to train Peter and his team by throwing wrenches and other unusual means.
The story continues and Goodman enrolls his own team into the tournament that includes oversized and very muscular competitors that makes Average Joes look like the biggest underdogs in the history of competitive sports. The film's full title contains "a True Underdog Story" and this becomes your typical underdog story where the film's heroes overcome insane odds to win the day. Of course, there is a little twist along the way and the film introduces cameos by Lance Armstrong, Chuck Norris, Jason Bateman and the amazing and timeless William Shatner. There is a love story between the characters of Kate and Peter that plays out nicely and one of the stronger elements in the film is the chemistry between Vaughn and Taylor. Before the credits roll, Average Joes is saved, but there are some twists before the end.
"Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" is a funny film that smartly uses its two lead characters strengths to its advantage and first time director Rawson Marshall Thurber does a great job of using Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller perfectly. Each actor has a strong fan base, but each have made different styles of comedy. Vaughn has always been perceived as an "Average Joe" and he is perfect in the role of Peter. Stiller has always been a ‘bigger' figure and hams it up nicely as White Goodman. The story itself is absurd and the movie is more in line with Stiller's other features, but the way in which Vaughn is used makes him perfectly suited for this film. You certainly could never insert Vaughn into the role played by Stiller and Stiller has never seemed as accessible as Vaughn in portraying the layman. This is a comedy where the actors cast are the glue that binds and "Dodgeball" would never have broken $100 million without both Vaughn and Stiller.
There are some comedy missteps in the film, but most of the gags thrown at the audience are very funny. I absolutely loved Rip Torn as Patch O'Houlihan. Watching his absolutely demolish the hapless Average Joe faithful to train them to be better dodgeball players was comedy gold. The training scenes were some of the funnier moments in the film. Watching Average Joe's lose to Girl Scouts and some of the other humorous in-game segments were also nicely done although I felt the level of comedy began to drop once the main tournament started. There were still funny moments to be found here and having cult icons William Shatner and Chuck Norris is guaranteed to make any film better. How can you not love Shatner?
"Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" is a very funny comedy that succeeds because of its stars. I laughed throughout the entire film and while it was a little uneven at times, I was never bored during its slim hour and a half running time. The film is the over-the-top story and comedy that Ben Stiller is known for, but having Vince Vaughn as the straight man to Stiller's slapstick works very well. The rest of the cast is pretty good and I enjoy Stephen Root. When I had first seen previews for "Dodgeball," I was tentative towards the film. I am by far more of a fan of Vince Vaughn and was interested to see his involvement and figured a comedy centered around the playground sport of dodgeball had to be funny, but I was unsure of how having both Stiller and Vaughn in the film would work. Vaughn had bit parts in the Ben Stiller films "Zoolander" and "Starsky & Hutch," but I was skeptical on how they would work together. Thankfully, it works well and "Dodgeball" is my second favorite Ben Stiller movie behind "Mystery Men."
The Blu-ray release of "Underdog: A True Underdog Story" is both detailed and colorful. While I won't call this one of the most visually stunning looking films on the format, it is one of the better looking comedies. Detail is very good although I would have preferred to not look at Ben Stiller's fat suit in high definition. Gross. Coloring was solid as well. Everything from the purple uniforms of Stiller's dodgeball teams to the black mistaken uniforms first worn by Average Joe's looks very good. Black levels are strong and the aforementioned S&M outfits showed a proper hue of black. I personally felt that Christine Taylor looked best in this scene. The darkly lit Average Joe's gym looked just as impressive as the film's brighter sequences. The print used for the digital transfer was pristine and I saw no flaws from the source materials. The 2.35:1 widescreen film is clean and a definite improvement over the previous DVD release.
The Twentieth Century Fox standard English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack for "Dodgeball" is one of the better sounding comedy mixes available. The film makes solid use of all speakers and includes some very nice moments that are capture in the rear surrounds and shakes the subwoofer nicely. The slow motion dodgeball sequences sound very good and the included musical numbers fill the room with sound. I was impressed with the degree of ambient sounds contained in the film and felt sound moved very cleanly between channels. Comedies are usually very flat sounding, but "Dodgeball" is an exception. Dialogue is clean as well. Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 multi-channel soundtracks are provided for foreign language support and subtitles are available in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese and Korean.
"Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" has a couple nice features that are included on the Unrated version of the film, but the unusual commentary track is the most interesting. The Feature-Length commentary by Writer/Director Rawson Marshal Thurber and Actors Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn is a very unusual commentary track. It was a staged commentary where Stiller, Vaughn and Thurber pretend to be very much against each other. Stiller doesn't appear for the first eleven minutes while Vaughn is more concerned with drinking, smoking and eating chips. They fight constantly until Thurber storms out at the twenty five minute mark and then the berated studio technicians Max and Jeff are left to finish the track and decide to just insert the commentary track for "There's Something About Mary." The first half hour of this commentary will have you thinking Stiller and Vaughn are the biggest asses in the world, but it was done in good fun. Fortunately, pressing the audio button to track five will uncover the Easter Egg featuring a detailed and informative commentary by Rawson Marshal Thurber.
The rest of the supplements are not quite as unusual as the menu-based commentary, but worth checking out. The Deleted/Extended Scenes (12:02) feature an optional commentary with writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber. There are ten scenes and I wonder why anybody would want to torture anybody with a ‘Dirty Sanchez.' They are good scenes, but deserved to be cut. Dodgeball Boot Camp: Training for Dodgeball (3:27) is a brief vignette showing the actors practicing and training for the film's physical dodgeball sequences. The Anatomy of a Hit (3:25) is another brief short that talks about the pain of a hard dodgeball or wrench hit. Justin Long: A Study in Ham & Cheese (3:34) allows up and coming actor Justin Long to have a few more minutes of screen time. These are essentially outtakes.
Dodgeball: Go for the Gold (1:20) is a very brief promotional clip about dodgeball and Vaughn and Stiller's desires to make it an Olympic sport. It was all done in good humor. The Bloopers/Gag Reel (3:02) is very short. The gag reel begins with a funny Rip Torn moment and continues to be funny with a lot of short clips and plenty of profanity. More with the Dodgeball Dancers (2:29) begins with a brief Introduction by Rawson Marshal Thurber and then contains clips showing the gorgeous and very scantily clad ‘dodgeball dancers' shaking their assets. This is a must watch segment for the red-blooded American male, but probably won't be appreciated by most significant others. Finally, an icon can be selected that brings Ben Stiller on-screen and he teases about Easter Eggs that are hidden on the disc. To find the Easter Eggs you need to watch the film and press the enter button whenever Stiller snaps his fingers. I'm not sure what all is located in the film, but the previously mentioned hidden commentary can be easily found by pressing the audio button.
"Dodgeball" was a film that I didn't think I would enjoy. I wasn't sure that Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn could share screen time effectively as they are two very different personas on the big screen. First time director Rawson Marshall Thurber made the leap from "Terry Tate" to "Dodgeball" very effectively and managed to provide a story where Stiller and Vaughn's wildly different personas are used to create a very funny and very entertaining film. I laughed numerous times and found the film to be far better than I had expected. The new Blu-ray release features sight and sound that is far better than the average comedy and with its nice array of bonus features, "Dodgeball" is a pretty good release. Unfortunately, the modern technology of the format is not supported with this release and it is just a technically better release than the previous DVD.