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  Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Rawson Marshall Thurber, USA, 2004
Rating: 4.8

Posted: June 22, 2004

Let me get this out of the way up front. Dodgeball is not to be compared with Lawrence Of Arabia or The Godfather. Some films are sculptures to be in awe of, while others simply exist to make you laugh. I should warn you, if you're waiting for another yawn-factory review of Dodgeball, quit loitering. No sale here. Dodgeball is a magnificent example of what can happen when the intent of a film is to make your belly ache from laughter. Trust me, drama is easy. Comedy, that's brutal.

Yes, dodgeball, the game, is a magnificent opportunity to aggressively abuse the less physically adroit amongst us -- the Laurence Stations of the world, if you will. It's a great canvas for comedy. I mean, people getting hit in the face with balls is humorous; end of discussion. But there's more at work here than mere slapstick. Vince Vaughn's character (Pete LaFleur -- owner and operator of Average Joe's gym) is trying to save his financially distressed property from being turned into a parking lot by Ben Stiller's White Goodman (owner of rival, considerably more high tech Globo Gym -- "We're better than you, and we know it!"). To avoid losing his gym to the bank, and, subsequently to Goodman, Peter enters his ragtag band of gym rats into a dodgeball contest with a cash prize that will cover the debt. Stiller counters by assembling a team of physically imposing players in an attempt to thwart Peter's efforts. Typically cast as the hero to Vaughn's villain (Starsky and Hutch), Stiller gets to sink his teeth into a truly loathsome character here, and he clearly relishes the opportunity.

Will Peter succeed in saving Average Joe's? Of course he will. But it's the getting to that preordained conclusion that makes the film so much fun. Dodgeball succeeds by offering interesting characters and clever asides. How can Peter lose when his dodgeball team features none other than Milton from Office Space (Stephen Root) and another slacker (Alan Tudyk) who thinks he's a pirate? Throw in Rip Torn as Patches O'Houlihan, a grizzled, wheelchair-bound dodgeball legend for your coach, and you're well on your way to ball-slappingly funny hijinks.

Another point in the film's favor is that it never packs the clichéd baggage that other comedies feel they must tote. Will the guy get the girl? Will the bad guy get his comeuppance? Will the underdog win? You already know all the answers to these questions, so instead of wasting time overdeveloping these various subplots, Dodgeball jumps swiftly into the action of a Las Vegas-hosted dodgeball tournament, where the sports motto "Go Balls Deep" proudly hangs. Writer/director Thurber (the man behind Reebok’s hilarious "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker" commercials) mines much humor from scenes involving Coach Patches ("If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!") to Stiller's ultrafit White Goodman tempting himself with junk food while wearing electrically-charged nipple clamps.

Those who criticize this movie as little more than "an exercise in dumb sight gags" are overlooking the plethora of hilarious, cerebral gems liberally sprinkled throughout. (The reference to ESPN 8 -- "The Ocho," where obscure sports have a home -- is particularly sweet.) If I read another review calling this offering "sophomoric" or "lowbrow", I'm gonna blow chunks. To these hoity-toity elitists, I say: You are missing the point because you're incapable of understanding the point, and you should never make profound statements about things you don't understand. That would be like me discussing nuclear fission, or Vincenzo talking about heterosexual sex. Neither one of us would have any idea what we were talking about.

So let my proclamation go forth: Dodgeball is nothing short of comedic genius. It's not about a gay guy trying to pretend to be straight, or a white guy masquerading as a black man, or an eager rookie cop teaming with a grumpy veteran, or any of the hundreds of other constantly recycled plots bandied about by the incestuous simple-minded whordes (spelling intentional) that comprise Hollywood's creative braintrust. Dodgeball is all about kicking you in the funny bone. Kicking you hard. Repeatedly.

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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