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Laramie Movie Scope:
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

Silly, but funny

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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July 2, 2004 -- “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” is not a true story, of course, but it is a true underdog story in the tradition of such sports-themed comedies as “The Longest Yard,” “Slapshot” and “Major League.” It isn't quite as good, or as serious, as some of those older sports comedies, but it is entertaining and funny, despite being loaded with clichés and groin humor. Part of its charm is that it gets some of its laughs by making fun of the very clichés that it uses so effectively to advance the plot.

Written and directed by the obscure Rawson Marshall Thurber, it features a smooth hero, Peter La Fleur (played by Vince Vaughn of “Old School,” doing his best Bill Murray imitation), owner of a small gymnasium called Average Joe's. His gym, which is in bankruptcy, is about to be bought by another, more successful fitness club owner, the odious White Goodman (Ben Stiller of “Zoolander”). Goodman, owner of Globo Gym, views Average Joe's as an eyesore. He plans to tear it down and build a parking garage. La Fleur needs $50,000 by the end of the month to save his property. His loyal patrons and staff dream up the idea of entering a dodgeball tournament, which has a grand prize of $50,000. If they win the prize, they can save the gym. Goodman learns of the scheme and enters his own team of ringers in the dodgeball tournament to keep La Fleur from saving his gym.

A subplot involves a romance between La Fleur and Kate Veatch (played by Christine Taylor of “Zoolander”), a bank employee. The pair has zero romantic chemistry, so that part of the film doesn't work. More interesting is the friendship between La Fleur and the people who hang out at his club, both employees and customers. One reason the customers like La Fleur is that he hasn't collected dues for club membership in years. The group, which also makes up his dodgeball team, is a bunch of oddballs, of course, including the very strange Steve the Pirate (Alan Tudyk of “A Knight's Tale”), a man who acts like a pirate right out of “Treasure Island.” Two other members of La Fleur's team are lovable losers Justin (Justin Long of “Galaxy Quest”) and Gordon (Steven Root of “Office Space”). Another “Galaxy Quest” alum, Missi Pyle, plays unibrowed, buck-toothed Romanian dodgeball ringer Fran, playing for Goodman's team. Out of nowhere, and for no discernible reason, legendary dodgeball coach Patches O'Houlihan (played by Rip Torn of “Welcome to Mooseport”), shows up to coach the Average Joe's team.

This self-aware movie pokes fun at a lot of sports movie clichés, with its over-the-top bad guy, Goodman, and its crotchety, unorthodox coach, O'Houlihan, and the physically imposing bad guy Me'Shell Jones (played by Jamal Duff of “The Rundown.” The movie also has fun with the cliché of getting a heroic effort from the guy you least expect to be able to do such a thing. Ben Stiller chews up the scenery as Goodman, the fitness guru who sells self-loathing as a virtue. I get what Thurber is trying to do with this character, but I think it would have been a little more effective if Goodman had been a slightly sympathetic character. He is such a creepy, almost psychotic character, he was repulsive. Rip Torn gives a very funny performance as O'Houlihan, the misanthropic coach (his motto: “aim low” and “if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball”). Torn (who has been around so long he was once blacklisted in the red scare days in the middle of the last century) has always excelled in portraying crazed characters. There are some funny cameo scenes with William Shatner, Chuck Norris and Lance Armstrong (the latter two play themselves, and Shatner seldom plays any character far from his natural state). Vince Vaughn is so understated as the hero, he was almost comatose. A little more energy from him would have been welcome. The film is funny enough that I'll give it a marginal thumbs up. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)