|Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is, at its heart, a goofy, slapstick movie and while it can't claim a space on the unique shelf, it stands well as an example of the recently popular "hair-brained" genre of filmmaking. Showcasing a group of misfits for whom all hope is lost, who must undertake a seemingly impossible (and strange) task is a popular variation on the familiar straight-laced hero story and Dodgeball is usually entertaining in these efforts.|
Recent film efforts such as Starsky & Hutch, Old School, and Zoolander have pushed star Vince Vaughn, who plays down-on-his-luck owner of "Average Joe's Gym," into a genre of film he may shortly be pigeon-holed for, though with his continued success in slapstick comedies, it's no wonder that Vaughn has continued to appear in this genre. What's interesting about his performances though is that he's never the goofy character or outwardly comedic personality.
Vaughn instead plays the straight-man opposite the lead goofball (kind of like Tommy Lee Jones's brand of deadpan humor with Will Smith in the Men in Black movies). And opposite the unfortunately and mysteriously celebrated actor Ben Stiller, Vaughn's delivery is familiar though usually effective. And in his role as a fanatical luxury gym owner, Ben Stiller can be counted on to provide the overblown weirdness required of at least one character in a slapstick film.
It's just a shame that the oddball zealot Stiller plays, the hyperactive "White Goodman," is the only character Stiller really ever plays. The concession should probably be made though that in this instance, Stiller's performance seems appropriate for the role (even if it comes off as strange more often than funny). Usually it is the performances of the supporting cast that will draw the largest and most laughs from the audience.
In a role only slightly less neurotic than his memorable performance in Office Space, Stephen Root is one of the most likeable underdogs of the film, as is Alan Tudyk's comedic gem as "Steve the Pirate," where he displays a consistent comedic timing that trumps everyone in the cast. Fellow underdogs Rip Torn (as the tyrannical Dodgeball coach, "Patches O'Houlihan") and Justin Long (as the wannabe cheerleader, "Justin") are also both entertaining additions to the ensemble cast.
Additional sturdy performances come from a variety of supporting actors, including Joel Moore, Chris Williams, and Christine Taylor (and it's entertaining to see Taylor express revulsion toward Stiller's character since the two are married in real life). And the cast of Dodgeball is certainly helped by the audience's inherent need to root for the "underdogs," though viewers will find the most value from the personalized subplots of the supporting characters as those stories are more honest and realistic than the main plot.
It might be difficult for this film to find favor with audiences, beyond its intended demographic (the audience would probably skew young and male), though there are appreciable efforts by the writer/director to put some honest sincerity into the film. It's fortunate that the film has an efficient ninety-two running time (that's with the credits) since pure slapstick can only be tolerated for just so long. And given the light atmosphere and lame brained comedy present in every scene, the filmmakers don't seem to have had much more impressive a goal than creating simple, comedic entertainment.
If seeing characters hit in the face repeatedly by wrenches is something you would find funny, you're probably the intended demographic for this film. People who wouldn't otherwise pay for admission to a strictly lowball, brainless comedy might find themselves twiddling their thumbs during a few scenes, so it might be best to wait for cable for general audiences. Dodgeball is a film that accomplishes everything its filmmakers set out to create, though the accomplishment isn't something more than mildly entertaining for the standard viewer.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.