It would be fair to say that if you are not a fan of slapstick and/or crude gags, then Dodgeball is not for you. There is, however, a certain something that sets it apart from the usual summer ‘comedy’ dross that’s punted out while Hollywood is busy making good films for Winter. That ‘something’ is that it’s genuinely funny. Not only are the gags a bit more snappy than you might expect, but the cast seem to be having a lot of fun making it.
To give it its full title, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, is pretty much self-explanatory. It’s a story about underdogs who play dodgeball. More specifically, it’s an excuse for Ben Stiller to dress up in a variety of bad outfits and sport the most awful hairstyle/moustache combination since Hitler. For those wondering if dodgeball is a real sport – it is. The uber-geeky can read about it here and here.
White Goodman (Stiller) is the owner and public face of Globo Gym, a large corporate gymnasium that sports the kind of clientele that would never actually have to go to the gym, being as shapely and attractive as they are. Goodman has a long-standing dislike of Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn), the owner of Average Joe’s Gym across the street. La Fleur’s book-keeping track record is particularly poor, and he finds himself in the position of needing to acquire some $50,000 in a very short time to stop Goodman from buying him out and bulldozing the gym to create a new car park. After a few unsuccessful attempts to earn the money, the bumbling, out-of-condition regulars at Average Joe’s come across a national dodgeball tournament with a top prize of – somewhat incredibly – $50,000. Goodman hears of his plans and creates his own team to play in the competition and deny La Fleur his chance of salvation. So far, so predictable – but the complexity of the storyline is the last reason you’d want to watch this.
The laughs come from many different angles, much like the balls themselves. Visual gags abound, from the obvious – people getting hit really hard by balls – to the more subtle: “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen $100,000 before.” There are several notable cameo appearances, including Chuck Norris, David Hasslehoff and – my personal favourite – Lance Armstrong. Some of the ‘archive footage’ is truly a joy to watch – Hank Azaria as a young Patches O’Houlihan, world dodgeball champion, explaining the rules of the game as defined by the ADAA – the American Dodgeball Association…of America.
The team is aided and abetted by Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor) – and as an aside, there’s something disturbingly funny about seeing a pretty young thing get a hard plastic ball pinged off her noggin – and an older, wheelchair-bound Patches O’Houlihan (a very funny Rip Torn). As the film progresses, they all get to play victim to Stiller’s megalomaniac narcissist gym owner, but guess what? No… I won’t spoil it for you.
The funny lines seem to be shared out a bit unequally as, for my money, Rip Torn steals just about every scene he’s in. In one memorable motivational speech, he declares “Son, you’re about as much use as cock-flavoured lollipop”. Taylor is there largely as the token woman, although she can be forgiven as she is a) not too hard on the eyes and b) is Mrs Ben Stiller. The other highlight of the film is the commentators reporting on the games for the TV channel ESPN8 – ‘The Ocho’. A real treat for anyone who’s ever watched sport and thought “…and these guys get paid for saying all this crap”.
Overall, it’s not a film that should work and be very funny, but it does, and it is. Watch out for the deus ex machina near the end. You’ll know when it arrives, as it has ‘Deus ex Machina’ written on the side…