Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
If you look back on your time as a child in grade school most of the memories are bound to be good ones. You were learning the basic subjects and there was always playing with your friends at recess. There was most likely one set of memories that you have tried to suppress because it brings back terror and humiliation; dodgeball. Almost all of us have been force to endure this so called game that gym teachers have been inflicting on the youth of our nation for generations. The class is split into two teams standing a few yards apart. One side is given rubber balls the other is unarmed. Most typically the bullies of the school yard managed to get the balls. As you stood their in your gym shorts facing the wicked grins of the other side you knew that pain and abject embarrassment was about to take place. Officially the object of the game was to dodge the ball as it careened towards you. If you were able to catch it then you could chuck it back. The actually purpose of the game was to make the weaker students even more laughable and pathetic than usual. Thankfully this is not the type of sport that you are forced to relive on ESPN. It is also something that as long been overlooked as the subject of a sports movie until ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story’. Okay, this is in no way shape or form a sports flick it is a raunchy comedy that is puerile, scatological and funny. It is a true farce that takes on the foibles of our society in the microcosm of the game of dodgeball. Actually, the premise is fairly strong. In dodgeball the strong and aggressive prey on the weaker members of their society. As the kid being pelted by dodgeballs grows up he will soon learn that this will carry through high school and manifest itself in more deceptive ways throughout his life. This is the heart of the film and what makes it funny. The audience can readily identify with the characters and have known the villains in real life even though the actions here are greatly exaggerated for comic effect. The film had a respectable budget of $20 million and much to the delight of the studio made more than that on its opening weekend. It would go on to gross enough box office to make it a financial winner. Many have commented that this is a stupid flick and in many ways this is true. It is also true that sometimes we need to sit back, forget the adult world and go back to that little kid forced to play dodgeball. The movie was released to DVD in 2005 and since then has been re-released several times packaged with similar comedies. Now there is a Blu-ray release so you can see every pained expression in high definition. Like other releases this one is unrated.
Behind this movie is Rawson Marshall Thurber who both wrote and directed it. Prior to this project he had a few other films including an animated movie and a comedy short. Why this story succeeds is simple; it taps into the feelings that most of us had when we had to play this game. It expands on the subjects of rivalry and greed using adults but mostly in very juvenile personas. There are touches of modern day adult concerns like big slick businesses taking over well established but less modern local businesses. There is a love story thrown in for good measure and to help humanize the proceedings. In order for outrageous comedy to work there has to be something for the audience to hold on to. Marshall accomplishes this with a character driven story that pits a regular guy just trying to make ends meet against an over the top maniac with few if any redeeming qualities. This instantly polarizes the characters into easily recognizable good guys and villains. When you don’t have to think too much about the moral standing of the characters it is much easier to enjoy the humor. Marshall has simplified the plot to a battle between good and evil allowing him to let the talented group of actors do what they do best; act silly.
As a director of this type of movie Marshall avoids the usual new director mistake of going to an extreme with his style. Some relatively new directors try to fit in every little camera trick they learned while others seem to shout ‘action’ and sit back letting the cast take over. Marshall seems to have found a good medium ground here. He keeps the story on track and allows for the actors to develop their characters but when it comes time for the sight gags and physical humor he appears to give the cast members great leeway in what is done. The result is a better than average comedy that will keep you laughing. He uses an age old plot device of the misfits rising up against the trained professionals in such a way that the humor comes across as fresh. This also captures the essence of a real dramatic sports flick; overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to win the day. Much of the film is a straight on parody of the most beloved sports movies and than goes a long way towards making this film work.
Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) is an affable sort of guy who owns and operates the Average Joe’s gymnasium. It is far from state of the art and lacks the high tech equipment most gyms have. He as a limited clientele and none of them are buff or in any way physically fit. Instead the only ones usually to be found at Peter’s gym are Steve the Pirate (Alan Tudyk), Justin (Justin Long) and Gordon (Stephen Root) as well as gym employees Owen (Joel Moore) and Dwight (Chris Williams). Between the bunch of them the cumulative IQ would barely hit 90. Peter has been falling behind in his mortgage payments to the bank and the loan will be sold off to White Goodman (Ben Stiller), the owner of the gym franchise Globo-Gym. They already have a large gym across the street from Peter but Goodman is intent on smashing any competition no matter how small. The only hope for Peter is to raise the $50,000 necessary in thirty days; a hopeless task. Goodman has an attorney working on the deal, Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor) but it doesn’t take long before she is completely disgusted with Goodman and his constant, inappropriate sexual advances. There is one very small glimmer of hope. There will be a dodgeball tournament held in Las Vegas that would allow Peter to pay off the bank. The biggest hitch is his ‘team’ is terrible. Peter manages to get a once famous professional dodgeball player, Patches O'Houlihan (Rip Torn) to act as their coach. He is a hateful older man in a wheelchair who trains the team by throwing metal objects at them and making them run in traffic.
Even with a flick like this the superior audio and video of Blu-ray comes through. The high definition video is awesome to watch. The picture is crystal clear with a DTS HD audio that surrounds you better than you could imagine. Now that Blu-ray has won the HD wars it is only a matter of time until you will want most of your favorite movies in this format. This is a good place to start.