Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenplay: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Stars: Vince Vaughn (Peter La Fleur), Christine Taylor (Kate Veatch), Ben Stiller (White Goodman), Rip Torn (Patches O'Houlihan), Justin Long (Justin), Stephen Root (Gordon), Joel David Moore (Owen), Chris Williams (Dwight), Alan Tudyk (Steve the Pirate), Missi Pyle (Fran), Jamal E. Duff (Me'Shell Jones), Gary Cole (Cotton McKnight), Jason Bateman (Pepper Brooks), Hank Azaria (Young Patches O'Houlihan)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2004
Country: U.S.
Dodgeball DVD
DodgeballDodgeball: A True Underdog Story is much funnier than any movie about dodgeball has a right to be. Dodgeball is, after all, perhaps the most juvenile of games, if calling it a game isn’t giving it too much credit. It’s the fall-back for lazy gym coaches everywhere--“Here, line up on opposite sides of the gym, here are some rubber balls, now pound each other with ’em.”

Of course, one of the things that’s funny about Dodgeball (besides the sight of seeing people being constantly pelted with dodgeballs, among other things) is the way in which it shows that its inane titular sport is really not that much different from most other high-dollar sporting events that draw thousands of live spectators and millions more on TV. The fact that the big climax of the film, a national dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas, is broadcast on ESPN 8, referred to as “The Ocho,” is basically a sustained joke about how people will watch virtually anything as long as it has competition of some sort and, as a bonus, promises some form of humiliation and pain to the loser.

The story is about Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn), the shabby, lackadaisical owner of Average Joe’s Gym. How shabby and lazy is Peter? Well, he considers it a good day when his heap of a car has enough get-up-and-go to start, and he hasn’t bothered to collect any dues from his clientele of losers and oddballs in more than a year. One day, Peter is informed by Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor), a lawyer who works for the bank that holds his mortgage, that he needs to cough up $50,000 in back payments or he will lose the gym.

However, he won’t just lose the gym. Rather, it will become the possession of White Goodman (Ben Stiller), the overcompensating fitness nut who owns the multimillion-dollar Globo Gym located right across the street. Goodman is an inspired comic creation, a whirlwind of extroverted self-infatuation masking a deep inner loathing. Stiller has perfected the art of playing emasculated characters who are the constant brunt of humiliating circumstances (see Flirting With Disaster, Meet the Parents, Along Came Polly, etc.), and White Goodman, buff though he is, is no different. With his perfectly feathered, blonde-streaked coiffure, ridiculous handlebar mustache, and rotating sets of skin-tight latex workout gear complete with inflatable crotches, he’s a deliciously wicked blend of misguided modern masculine signifiers gone awry. Stiller obviously relished playing this pintsize, muscle-bound ode to absurdity, and even if the rest of the movie had been a drag, it would have been worth it just to see his performance.

So, to keep the gym and stick it to Goodman, Peter enters a national dodgeball tournament, the first-place prize of which just happens to be $50,000. The idea is really the brainchild of Gordon (Stephen Root), one of Peter’s regular clients who takes his exercising and love of obscure sports a little too seriously (not to mention his marriage to a mail-order bride who clearly despises him). Other members of the “underdog” team include misfits such as a geeky teen (an effortlessly hilarious Justin Long) who wants desperately to make the high school cheerleading squad so he can win the girl and a guy (Alan Tudyk) who seems to really believe that he’s a pirate, right down to the squinty eyes and constant grunting of “Arrr.”

Whipping them into shape is a crotchedy old dodgeball veteran named Patches O’Houlihan (Rip Torn). Patches is first seen in a hilarious World War II-era informational film about the sport of dodgeball that’s worthy of The Simpson’s Troy McLure (Patches is played as a young man in the film by Hank Azaria, who voices several characters on The Simpsons). As an old man, Patches is gruff and wheelchair-bound, but he knows how to teach the movie’s lovable losers to adhere to the five D’s of dodgeball, two of which are, not surprisingly, “Dodge.” This is done primarily by throwing heavy objects at them, particularly wrenches. And, if you don’t find the sight of goofy misfits getting hit in the noggin by metal tools, then Dodgeball probably isn’t for you.

Of course, if that’s all there were to the movie, it would be an instantly forgettable one-joke waste of time. However, Dodgeball has more than a few tricks up its sleeve, which is what keeps it so consistently funny and watchable. The basic plotline of the movie is torn straight from the pages of every cliché-ridden sports movie ever to emerge from Hollywood, but that’s part of the gag. The inane familiarity of the plot trajectory allows us to concentrate on the movie’s goofy parade of sight gags, social jokes, and surprise cameos. No one will mistake Dodgeball for a masterpiece of comic genius, but its slacker humor is infectious, and any movie that makes such inspired use of both William Shatner and David Hasselhoff is worth a look.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story DVD

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Spanish Dolby 2.0 Surround
  • French Dolby 2.0 Surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
  • Audio commentary by director Rawson Marshall Thurber and stars Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn
  • Deleted/extended scene with optional commentary
  • Alternate ending
  • Blooper reel
  • “Dodgeball Bootcamp: Training for Dodgeball” featurette
  • “The Anatomy of a Hit” featurette
  • “Justin Long: A Story in Ham & Cheese” featurette
  • “Dodgeball: Go for the Gold” featurette
  • Trailer
  • Screenplay [DVD-ROM]
  • Distributor20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
    Release DateDecember 7, 2004

    Dodgeball's anamorphic widescreen transfer is pristine throughout. Colors are bright and lifelike, detail level is good (you can make out every feathered strand of Stiller’s coiffure), and flesh tones look natural. There is also a separately available pan-and-scan version, but as I always say, don’t bother.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is just as good as the image. The music is nicely mixed, and the cartoonishly exaggerated sound effects, particularly the familiar goofy whump of a rubber ball hitting someone, have good punch and depth.

    The screen-specific audio commentary by writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber and stars Ben Still and Vince Vaughn is laid back and frequently very funny. Stiller and Vaughn spend most of the time making jokes, but Thurber manages to inject quite a bit of information about the making of the film. The other supplements start off with seven deleted or extended scenes (with optional commentary by Thurber), most of which are pretty good (“Cardio Cowboy” is particularly funny), but had to be cut for reasons of pacing. Also included is an alternate ending that I have to believe was included as a joke, Thurber’s seemingly serious commentary included. Four jokey featurettes about the film's production are also included, the best of which by far is “Justin Long: A Study in Ham & Cheese,” which is just unused footage of Justin Long doing his thing. The three-minute blooper and gag reel is appropriately amusing, especially when Stiller cracks himself up with his own lines.

    Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick

    All images copyright ©2004 20th Century Fox

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

    James Kendrick offers, exclusively on Qnetwork, over 2,500 reviews on a wide range of films. All films have a star rating and you can search in a variety of ways for the type of movie you want. If you're just looking for a good movie, then feel free to browse our library of Movie Reviews.

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