How many ball gags do you think you can cram into ninety minutes? For the answer watch ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog’s Story’, the latest comedy from the Ben Stiller stable. With images of overloaded bandwagons in mind, Ben and co have pounced upon the latest craze to sweep America and sent it up in some style. Is nothing sacred anymore?
Apparently fat, sweating middle aged Americans everywhere, from Oregon to Ohio, are reliving their childhood nightmares and organising dodgeball tournaments, in some attempt to redress the balance and get some payback after one too many playground humiliations… because I mean let’s face it, the former cool kids will be doing something much more interesting with their leeeeesure time. It’s clearly time to settle the score.
It’s this ghost of schoolyard taunting and stinging red thighs that propels Dodgeball like a rubber projectile straight at your funny bone. The classic sports movie jelly mould (see Rocky 1-5) comes in handy once again to serve up a tale of the little guy taking on the big guy all the way to limb-flaying death. The little guy in this case is jaded gym proprietor Peter De Fleur (Vince Vaughn, a major part of the Stiller repertory company) a not exactly enthusiastic motivator and all round poor excuse for a personal trainer, whose gym Average Joe’s is about as run down and out of shape as it’s sparse clientele. The big guy, with a distinct complex about his size, is White Goodman (Played with a blood vessel bursting intensity by Ben Stiller) owner of Globo Gym, the hi-tech health club that takes fitness to a level of bulging fanaticism, the likes of which were once witnessed in the ex-Soviet Union’s Olympic team. Goodman, complete with handle bar moustache, tousled mullet and a secret junk-food habit, wants to buy out De Fleur and turn Average Joe’s into an above average extension of the Globo empire. Faced with foreclosure from the bank, De Fleur and his small band of workout desperadoes, mostly wheezing cry babies and weaklings who look like they’ve never lifted a bar bell in their lives, hit upon Dodgeball as a lucrative way of raising the cash to save the gym. They’re loosener against the a local girl’s team opens them up to a whole new world of pain.
The film homes in on an inevitable clash of the titans, from the point when Goodman picks the cream of his sinuous Globo disciples to build his own dodgeball team, and proceeds to chase De Fleur’s nonchalant no-hopers all the way to the national finals in Las Vegas. Dodgeball bristles with physical comedy moments that are as wince-worthy as they are humorous. No limb or torso is spared quarter. The showcase climax allows for some great ball slapping action and generous opportunity for the odd cameo here and there. Lance Armstrong, Rip Torn and Jason Bateman show their face and William Shatner waddles up at the end as the chairman of the American Dodgeball Association.
Stiller picks out the details of his character (particularly the self-loathing) with customary precision and the rest of the ensemble cast slot in favourably behind.
Dodgeball strains every comedy muscle to deliver, and deliver it does. Hilarious in it’s approach to the sports movie, brutal in satirising our obsession with the gym and mindless in most of it’s comedy, it’s a straightforward laugh out loud 90 minutes. Dodgeball takes a daft, some might say cruel, playground game and gets enough mileage out of it so that you allow for the routine formula. It doesn’t offer much exercise for the brain in it’s plain faced mickey-take of a wannabe American institution, but if you’re a fan of Stiller’s brand of comedy you’ll walk out feeling happily exhausted, but perhaps guilty that you skipped a session in the gym to go watch it.
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