Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (PG-13) ★★★

Review Date: June 21st, 2004

The weak vs. the strong storyline is no stranger to cinema. We cheered for

the foul-mouthed Bears, applauded the Cleveland Indians, and rooted for the

Hanson brothers. But throw in a schoolyard humiliation favorite that was

second only in degradation to being pantsed during assembly, and you can

expect a fair share of chuckles. Using a childhood sport that most adults have since repressed memories of sets the stage for lunacy, and that's exactly what the

flick delivers. Go ahead. Embrace the evil that is Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.

THWACK!

Story

Dodgeball is the classic big guy vs. little guy

can-do tale featuring your least favorite P.E. activity. Peter La Fleur

(Vince Vaughn) is the irresponsible manager of Average Joe Gymnasium, a

low-end workout center that is losing business to Globo Gym America Corp.,

run by former fatty food fetishist White Goodman (Ben Stiller). Peter

discovers that he has 30 days to come up with $50,000 of payments or else he

will lose his gym to Goodman. With the help of the bank's lawyer Kate Veatch

(Christine Taylor) and a ragtag team of gym regulars, Peter plans on

winning the Las Vegas International Dodgeball Open and its first place

prize money. Yes folks, all of your favorite sports clich├ęs are here: the

salty, experienced coach (Rip Torn) with his inspirational

non-sequiturs, the nerd with a girl to impress, a love triangle between the two

rivals, and of course, pirates. What? You were expecting a high concept and clever plot twists, perhaps? C'mon.

Acting

If you want character development, go see the folks at Merchant-Ivory. This

is irreverent comedy, folks. And truth be told, it's nothing we haven't seen

before. Vince Vaughn hones his too-cool-for-school, good-guy persona against

Ben Stiller's lycra-covered, over-the-top overachiever with a '70s porn

moustache. Stiller's performance is colored with shades of the dim-witted

Zoolander and the granny-thrashing nurse from Happy Gilmore, but it

works. The two actors play off of each other and their co-stars quite well.

(Stiller's codpiece alone deserves its own screen credit.) But like a good drummer carries a band, the movie's costars are what keeps the audience's attention. And as always, Rip Torn does crazy

like no one else as dodgeball manager Patches O'Houlihan. He

chews the scenery, spouting nuggets of wisdom such as, ''If you can dodge a

wrench, you can dodge a ball'' before heaving a tool at one poor kid. As for the team of Average Joes, Stephen Root, Justin Long, and Joel Moore keep the gags rolling, as do the actors who make cameo appearances. This laugher has more guest stars than a

two-hour Love Boat special. With a list that includes David

Hasselhoff, Chuck Norris, Jason Bateman, Hank Azaria, I was almost expecting

Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise to show up in a red Ferrari. The

highlights? Well, Gary Cole shines in his bow to the great Vin Scully, but

nothing could beat Lance Armstrong, who laid down the best guilt trip I've

seen since I moved to the dorms.

Direction

This is Rawson Marshall Thurber's first time out playing with the big boys.

Quite a burden for a Tinseltown newbie, but Thurber pulls it off agreeably.

All of your favorite sports movies will be mocked, and you will enjoy it.

Thurber uses everything he can to get a laugh. Whether he's clowning Tony

Robbins, parodying '50s instructional videos, or using pizza in a perverse

and unholy manner, Thurber keeps his audiences attention with enough

breakneck shtick to make Mel Brooks proud. But most importantly, he never

forgets the fundamental rule to slapstick comedy: hitting people with stuff

is very, very funny, especially if it's in the nether regions or some area

of the human body that could potentially hurt or bleed a whole lot.

Bottom Line

After weeks of sequels, remakes, and epic dramas, Dodgeball

offers moviegoers the perfect outing to appease their needs for butter and salt, air

conditioning and flippant comedy.