Watching “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” is like watching “Best In Show,” “Family Guy” and the Pin Pals episode of “The Simpsons” back to back, although the sum is not nearly as good as the individual parts. Some moments are sublime. Others are shockingly lazy. Most of the material is horribly, and deliberately, inappropriate. There are also cameos galore. The end result is sometimes side-splittingly funny, but overall wildly uneven.
Vince Vaughn stars as Peter La Fleur, a not too terribly ambitious man who runs a small gym called Average Joe’s that is on the verge of financial ruin. Across the street is GloboGym, a fascist mega-gym run by White Goodman (Ben Stiller), a pompous dork with ridiculous hair who wants to take Average Joe’s and turn it into a parking structure. Between them is Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor), a lawyer assigned by their bank to organize the takeover for one and the foreclosure on the other. La Fleur needs $50,000 by the end of the month, or Average Joe’s is done for. One of his few regulars, an obscure sports fan named Gordon (Stephen Root), suggests they enter a Las Vegas dodgeball tournament, which pays the winner, wouldn’t you know it, $50,000. Goodman gets wind of their scheme and enters the tournament as well.
The setup is admittedly preposterous, but writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber still didn’t have to stoop to the depths that he does. After a hilarious sequence showing renowned dodgeball champion Patches O’Houlihan (Rip Torn) whipping the Average Joe’s crew into shape (with the help of wrenches and traffic), we’re subjected to the most perverse masturbation scene in the history of film, a bit that’s not just unfunny but seriously disturbing. The games themselves are lots of fun, with each team a group of silly stereotypes like the Lumberjacks and Skillz That Killz (hence the Pin Pals reference). The play-by-play commentary, provided by Gary Cole and a very funny Jason Bateman, nearly steals the movie.
The biggest flaw with “Dodgeball,” besides how desperately hard Thurber tries to test our limits (fat cheerleaders, dyke jokes, inflatable shorts), is Stiller’s Goodman character. He simply has too much screen time. Villains, as a rule, are not supposed to have more screen time than the hero, but Stiller is onscreen a good 10 minutes more than Vaughn. But never mind the rules of moviemaking, because this would be acceptable if Goodman were an engaging villain (think Jack Nicholson’s Joker), but a little of him goes a really long way. By the 60-minute mark, he’s worn out his welcome, and you’re left wondering why his oversized minions haven’t rebelled against him, given him a swirlie and hung him from a flagpole.
“Dodgeball” had the opportunity to be the Little Slapstick Movie That Could, ala “There’s Something About Mary.” But in their quest to offend, they forgot one simple rule: being offensive works best when you’re smart about it. Unlike the Farrelly Brothers, who love all their misfits, Thurber seems to view his subjects with contempt. As a result, we do, too.(2.5 / 5)