Monday, April 16, 2012

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story - 2004

"Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" - 2004
Dir. by Rawson Marshall Thurber - 1 hr. 32 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

For official record keeping purposes, the version I watched was the unrated Blu-Ray cut; I couldn't tell you what the difference between the versions is, and there's only one minute's difference in the run times listed at IMDB for the theatrical version and on the packaging for the unrated version.

I don't know exactly what makes up the difference between a pretty good comedy and a really good comedy, but there is a difference.  And whatever that difference is, it's what's missing from "Dodgeball."  But also, after saying that, I also know that I'm going to have to walk that assessment back a bit, because it makes the film sound a lot worse than I think it is.  But also, on re-watching "Dodgeball" for the first time in a few years, it wasn't quite as good as I'd remembered it being.

"Dodgeball" is a classic "save the house" film: Average Joe's gym is being foreclosed upon (to be turned into a parking structure for rival Globo-Gym.  Even though gym owner Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) seems more than willing to go down without a fight, his core group of gym-goers are willing to follow him to any lengths to raise the $50k needed to pay off the debt.  They include Steve the Pirate (Alan Tudyk), high-school cheerleader wannabe Justin (Long), bespectacled mail-order bride owner Gordon (Stephen Root), the gym's trainer, Dwight (Chris Williams), and befuddled team manager Owen (Joel David Moore).  These men, along with bank employee Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor), end up entering a dodgeball tournament who's cash prize is coincidentally $50k.  Globo-Gym also enters a team of ringers, led by White Goodman (Ben Stiller), for the sole purpose of trying to personally deny the Average Joes the money they need.  Yes, it's an incredibly dickish move, but a lot of the fun in this film comes from Stiller's bizarre character, and this is par for the course.

So here's the point where I try to explain why I think this is only pretty good, and not really good.  It's a tough call, especially since there are at least a couple of really classic, great comedy scenes present.  Chief among those is a one-scene appearance by Lance Armstrong, with a devastating, self-aware, yet devoid of malice instant assessment of LaFleur's situation.  There's easily a handful of heavily-quoted scenes, as well.  Everyone knows, nobody makes me bleed my own blood.  Also, thank you, Chuck Norris.  There's great scenes, memorable lines, a good cast, outrageous characters, and a foul-mouthed old man (Rip Torn playing the team's coach, Patches O'Houlihan).  So why is this movie like a B-minus instead of a B-plus?

There are a few things that chip away at the overall film.  First off, I wasn't that impressed by Vince Vaughn this time around.  He's funny in the way he's frequently funny, but as this character was written, Peter LaFleur just doesn't care about what happens one way or another.  I get the notion of having a lead character with an ironic sense of ambivalence, and it makes for some funny exchanges.  At the same time, it's leaning too heavily on irony as the source of humor; if Peter doesn't care what happens, why would a viewer?  There are a few points that a "save the house" movie has to hit in order to add up at the end, and one of them is the character arc of rousing an ambivalent/slacker-ish character to action.  This movie is already playing within the confines of that formula, but misses the mark on that point.

The second thing that I found slightly less charming than I might have before is the overacting by ten or fifteen percent thing that's going on.  It makes sense with some of the more outlandish characters (particularly Stiller's, and he's fantastic at it), but it gets exhausting when everyone's doing it.  It's another symptom of leaning too heavily on irony to carry the comedic load; some of the characters don't have any solid footing.  I don't need an explanation for Steve the Pirate, it's better off unexplained.  But there are scenes to be found at various points featuring any of the characters mugging for the camera.  It's not overt enough to be obsequious, but there's a habit overplaying things for a beat in a really unsubtle way, and it makes me want to withhold my laughter so as not to reward the lack of directorial confidence in the material and actors.  The third thing, not big enough to warrant its own paragraph, is the debt that "Dodgeball" owes to "BASEketball."  It's not a big enough deal to call shenanigans on, and this is definitely the better (and vastly more successful) of the two films, but some of the gags (from the wacky, themed teams, to the sportscaster parodies, and even basing a film around a pseudo-sport) are retreads.  The borrowed ideas are put to good use, but it's worth mentioning.

But it's a pretty good movie.  I feel like I have to keep repeating that; I had some very specific qualms watching it this time around, but I still enjoyed it very much.  It's in the top tier of both Ben Stiller's and Vince Vaughn's comedies, but not quite at the same level as "Zoolander" or "Tropic Thunder."  But, after spending all that time splitting hairs, I'll end on a positive note.  My favorite scene in the whole movie, and the one guaranteed to make me laugh every time is a small response from Justin Long, when he randomly meets the cheerleader that he's got a crush on all the way in Las Vegas.  A male cheerleader shoos the girl away from Justin, and flips him the bird.  Justin's response is a baffled, quiet, "What?"  It's just one moment, but the response is perfect; both amazed and confused that a random meeting with this beautiful girl has so quickly turned into being thrown an obscene gesture.  The Lance Armstrong scene has legs, and there are great bits scattered all the way through "Dodgeball."  But that one little moment from Justin Long kills me every time.

3.5 / 5 - Blu-Ray

No comments:

Post a Comment