DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY - DVD review's got enough laughs in its ninety-odd minutes to justify the time spent on it, which is more than can be said for most recent comedies out of Hollywood.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

I recall playing dodgeball as a kid. My elementary school in the early fifties had big white circles painted on the asphalt, and some players would be inside the ring and some players would be outside with a ball. But I also remember liking to play the game against a wall; it seemed more intense with only a bit of lateral movement allowed. Besides, the idea amongst the boys was to hit somebody as hard as possible, and a wall seemed to heighten the action (and the hurt). A guy thing.

Which is the point of this 2004 movie, "Dodgeball," I suppose. It takes an essentially youngsters' game and inflates it to near mythic proportions, with adults behaving like children. The movie may not boast enough ingredients for a long-term comedy classic, but it's got enough laughs in its ninety-odd minutes to justify the time spent on it, which is more than can be said for most recent comedies out of Hollywood.

Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller star as rival gym owners, Vaughn pretty much playing straight man to Stiller's manic-obsessive funnyman. Needless to day, the conflict develops around a dodgeball game, with Vaughn's ragtag team of washouts struggling against Stiller's band of super-jocks. The whole thing is played as a parody of those inspiring, come-from-behind sports movies where you cheer for the losers to overcome all odds--the boxers, runners, football clubs, softball squads, bicycling teams, you name it, who persevere despite their wretched chances and emerge victorious in the end. "Dodgeball" just takes it all to the point of absurdity with a world invitational dodgeball competition, the movie subtitled with appropriate tongue-in-cheek, "A True Underdog Story."

Vaughn is Peter LaFleur, a Mr. Nice-Guy who owns Average Joe's Gym, a run-down little place that caters to a clientele of scruffy misfits unable to pay their bills. Pete doesn't care because they're all like family, and, besides, he feels like he's one of them. Pete's having a good day when his car starts in the morning.

Among Pete's staff and clients are Steve the Pirate (Alan Tudyk), who talks and dresses like Long John Silver; Gordon (Stephen Root), a role that seems patterned after the Rick Moranis character in "Ghostbusters"; Justin (Justin Long), a young fellow who may or may not still be in high school and is hopelessly in love with the head cheerleader; and Dwight (Chris Williams) and Owen (Joel Moore), a couple of loyal but not entirely brainy hangers-on.

Across the street is Globo Gym America, a huge, upscale, multimillion-dollar facility run by White Goodman ("Hi, I'm White"), played by Ben Stiller. White is an egomaniacal, little, creepy, hard-driven, pumped-up jerk who bought the place with his father's money. His slogan: "Here at Globo Gym, we're better than you, and we know it!" ("Just kidding. But not really.") Moreover, White isn't interested in merely owning a chain of fancy gyms, he wants Pete's place, too; he says he needs the space for a parking lot, but he really hates any kind of threat to his business or his ego, even one as lopsided as this. "Your gym is a skid mark on the underpants of society," White tells Pete.

Pete owes $50,000 in back rent, and if he doesn't pay up, the bank will foreclose and White will buy him out. The beautiful young bank lawyer who presents the bad news to Pete is Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor), a lady we can see in a minute will soon become the romantic interest in the story.

So, where does the game of dodgeball come in? Gordon just happens to be an avid reader of "Obscure Sports Quarterly" and notices that there is a dodgeball tournament with a first prize guessed it...$50,000. The little band from Average Joe's decides to enter the Las Vegas International Dodgeball Open, at which point White determines to field a team as well. Only White's team is made up of guys named Blade, Lazer, Blazer, and Me'Shell, all buffed, six-foot athletes; plus their ringer, Fran Stalinovskovichdaviddivichski, a Romanovian dodgeball champion and "the deadliest woman on earth with a dodgeball."

I mean, what's a little team to do against those odds? Hire the greatest dodgeball player of all time as their coach, that's what. Never mind that he's now about 800 hundred years old and in a wheelchair. He's the illustrious Patches O'Houlihan, performed with his usual vigor by actor Rip Torn. "If you're going to be true dodgeballers," he tells his men, "then you've got to learn the five D's of dodgeball: Dodge, duck, dip, dive,"

Stiller's sniveling little imbecile is a good foil for Vaughn's laid-back slacker. When White suggests to Kate that they should "mate, er, date" sometime, Kate throws up in her mouth, "just a little bit," she tells him. "Hey, you know," responds White, "in some cultures they only eat vomit." But it's really the O'Houlihan character (played in the present by Torn and in flashback by Hank Azaria) who steals the picture. "Remember, dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion, and degradation," O'Houlihan proclaims in a 1950's dodgeball training film. He throws wrenches at his players to sharpen up their dodging skills ("If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball"), and he comes replete with a full assortment of insults: "You couldn't hit water if you fell out of a boat!"

Pete's motto: "Aim low."

"Dodgeball" is rated PG-13 so the crudity doesn't get out of hand, but do expect a healthy dose of crotch and ball gags, as well as any number of fat jokes. The movie is not particularly offensive, just a little risqué. To spice things up, the filmmakers throw in a few cameos--Lance Armstrong, Chuck Norris, David Hasselhoff, William Shatner, even writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who is here making his first feature-length film and figured he might as well be in it, too.

Stiller's previous few movies, like "Duplex" and "Starsky & Hutch," elicited no laughs from me and no smiles whatsoever. "Dodgeball," on the other hand, made me break out laughing a half a dozen times and smile quite a lot. Nevertheless, as I've said before, humor is a funny thing, and what tickles one person may bore another.

This one didn't bore me.

The picture quality is quite good, as are most of Fox's transfers, but not quite in the same league with their "I, Robot" transfer of about the same time period. The screen size for "Dodgeball" measures an anamorphic ratio approximately 2.17:1 across my standard-screen HD television, and the transfer itself is reproduced at a relatively high bit rate. I found the video somewhat dark overall, but with good color and above-average definition. Black levels are strong, grain is mostly absent, and very minor halos are only noticeable upon close inspection, which should not be an issue for most viewers.

There is not a lot for the multiple speakers in a Dolby Digital 5.1 system to do in this kind of a movie, where dialogue is chiefly the rule, but the DD 5.1 sound is clean and clear. Speech is firmly anchored in the front center speaker, for better or for worse, and the stereo spread is modest at best. Yet when the surrounds are needed for a few vocals and some crowd noise, they work efficiently and add to the fun of the proceedings.

The disc is not promoted as a special edition, but it contains enough extras to qualify as one. To begin, there's an audio commentary with the director Rawson Marshall Thurber and actors Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. How should I describe it? Let's just say it's different. Next, there are seven deleted or extended scenes, plus an alternate ending, all with optional commentary by director Thurber. Following these items are four featurettes, "Dodgeball Boot Camp: Training For Dodgeball," "The Anatomy Of A Hit," "Justin Long: A Study In Ham & Cheese," and "Dodgeball: Go For the Gold," each featurette between two and four minutes long. Next, there is a three-minute gag reel filled with bloopers. Then the bonuses conclude with twenty-two scene selections; two theatrical trailers for "Dodgeball"; a trailer for "Arrested Development"; a teaser trailer for "The Ringer"; and a DVD-ROM screenplay. English, French, and Spanish are the spoken language options, with English and Spanish subtitles.

Parting Thoughts:
No one is going to mistake the wacky humor in "Dodgeball" for something like the subtly sophisticated wit of the Coen brothers' "Intolerable Cruelty"; and few people will find the sheer number of outright laughs in "Dodgeball" that are found in the Farrelly brothers' "There's Something About Mary." But "Dodgeball" is a giant step upwards from the likes of "White Chicks," "New York Minute," "The Girl Next Door," and other such contemporary Tinseltown comedies. The humor in "Dodgeball" may be a bit dodgy, but at least it's there.


Film Value