Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
June 22, 2005
Let’s face it, dodgeball is a ridiculous sport. This raises an important (well, not really) question—can it even be called a sport? On the surface, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) seems to say yes but in actuality it is an accurate parody of this silly activity that one used to play as a child in gym class. Now, it is televised and played by “professionals.” It’s time to take this ridiculous enterprise down a notch.
White Goodman (Stiller) is the self-absorbed owner and operator of Globo Gym, dedicated to “a thinner, better you” through cosmetic surgery and a punishing exercise program. Peter LaFleur (Vaughn) is his polar opposite: the lazy, out of shape owner of the Average Joe gym. He is a man of simple means who considers it a good day when his crappy car actually starts. His gym is right across the street from Globo and is the complete antithesis to its state-of-the-art facilities: run-down equipment and a small number, of sickly and over or underweight clients.
A good looking representative (Taylor) from the bank tells Peter that he has to pay $50,000 in 30 days or be shut down. To make matters worse, White has bought the second mortgage to Peter’s gym and plans to bulldoze it to make room for a parking lot. Peter rallies his employees and regulars to find a way to save their place. One of them, Gordon (Root), finds out that there is Dodgeball Tournament in Las Vegas with the grand prize being the exact amount they need to pay off the bank.
Their first match, against a team of girl scouts, doesn’t go well but thanks to a freak drug violation they qualify for the tournament anyway. Legendary dodgeball champion, Patches O’Houlihan (Torn), now crazed and bound to a motorized wheelchair, becomes their coach. He takes them all the way to the championship where the face off against White’s team.
The attention to details is a part of what makes this such a funny movie. There is the send-up of the get-fit-quick fitness world that is summed up so well in White’s office—chock full of homoerotic imagery. Even his over-inflated cod piece represents his large ego. The vintage educational film on the basics of Dodgeball is hilarious as it evokes the ‘50s right down to period dialogue and stilted delivery (with Hank Azaria in a cameo as the young Patches). And then there is the skewering of the many ESPN TV channels as the tournament is shown on ESPN 8 (their slogan is “If it’s almost a sport we’ve got it here.”). The two sports commentators are played with gusto by Gary Cole and Jason Bateman who gleefully spout many funny, off-the-cuff comments that make fun of these kinds of broadcasters.
Ben Stiller’s White Goodman is a dead-on parody of the super-happy fitness gurus you see on late night infomercials. Stiller is good as this hyperactive go-getter. He is clearly relishing his bad guy role, a nice break from the neurotic good guys he’s been playing lately. He fully immersing himself in the role by physically transforming himself, complete with feathered, Patrick Swayze hair-do and ‘70s porno star moustache that seems like a nod to his character from Happy Gilmore (1996).
After making his name playing loud, motormouths in films like Swingers (1996) and Made (2001), Vince Vaughn switches gears with a more low-key performance. He makes it all the more easy to root for his team of underdogs because, compared to Stiller’s White Goodman, he represents the likable everyman. His laid-back slacker harkens back to the early comedic roles of Bill Murray (Meatballs and Stripes) with his effortless indifference and ability to rise to the occasion when it counts.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber and actors Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. Thurber mentions that he wrote the roles specifically for Stiller, Vaughn and Justin Long. Stiller and Vaughn comment on scenes with dry, sardonic humour while Thurber plays the straight man.
There are seven deleted scenes with optional commentary from Thurber. He mentions that they were cut for time and pacing. There is some good footage here, including more with Justin (Long) and his dream of being a cheerleader.
Also included is a more downbeat alternate ending with optional commentary from Thurber. He mentions that test audiences didn’t like it and the studio forced him to re-shoot it, even leaving the production for ten days in protest. This is a rare insight into a problem that he ran into in an otherwise congratulatory collection of extras.
“Dodgeball Boot Camp: Training for Dodgeball” features footage of the cast training for the dodgeball sequences. Interestingly, they all had to learn how to dodge and throw the ball like professional dodgeballers.
“The Anatomy of a Hit” examines why physical humour is so funny. Thurber explains that the tendency for an actor is to flinch before you’re hit by an object. He also points out that the funniest body shots are either the head or the groin.
“Justin Long: A Study in Ham and Cheese” features a scene with the actor adlibbing as he mentally prepares himself for dodgeball followed by a montage of many ball hits that he endured for a scene.
“Dodgeball: Go for the Gold” has Stiller and Vaughn making a mock-plea for dodgeball to be considered as an Olympic sport.
There is the obligatory blooper/gag reel that features the usual blown lines and, not surprisingly, some of the nasty hits that the camera took from well-placed dodgeball throws by Stiller.
Finally, there are two theatrical trailers.
Dodgeball lives up to its subtitle by being a much better movie than it should have been. Sure, there is the requisite crude humour (gratuitous ball shots to the groin) but also right on the money parodies of fitness clubs and the fascination with sports that have no business being called such. Dodgeball is mindless entertainment but done in an engaging way that is a lot of fun to watch.