Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story Review
Pete La Fleur (Vince Vaughn) is having money problems. His rundown gymnasium, Average Joe's, is about to go bankrupt, thanks in no small part to Pete's complete incompetence as a businessman. He's informed by his bank, represented by perky accountant Kate (Christine Taylor) that he has thirty days to come up with $50,000 or not only will he lose his gym but it will be sold to his arch-rival White Goodman (Ben Stiller). White is a rich, arrogant bodybuilder who runs the Globo Gym corporation. Unlike Pete's friendly neighbourhood hangout, Globo Gym attracts and retains its customers by making them feel bad about themselves. Their corporate motto is "We're better than you and we know it".
The situation looks hopeless until one of Pete's regulars, a fan of obscure sports, tells him there's a dodgeball tournament taking place in Las Vegas and the first prize is $50,000. Pete assembles a ragtag team, the Average Joes, from his employees and friends, including a male cheerleader and a lunatic who thinks he's a pirate. Through luck more than skill, they qualify for the finals in Vegas where, with ESPN's cameras trained on them, the Average Joes must somehow conquer the world's toughest dodgeball teams, not least White Goodman's own squad of pumped-up supermen.
Dodgeball is a real American sport, albeit one played mostly by schoolchildren. To sum it up briefly, two teams on opposite sides of a court fling balls at each other. If a player is hit, they're out and the last team to have players left on the court wins. It's an absurd game but that's the point. Writer / director Rawson Marshall Thurber is using it to poke fun at professional sports, at their coverage on TV and at Hollywood movies where the underdog always prevails.
Baseketball, the 1998 comedy from David Zucker and the South Park team, tried something along the same lines and occasionally Dodgeball steps on its toes, for example the gimmicky rival teams faced by the heroes. However, Dodgeball is different enough in its comic approach that the similarities aren't distracting and the two films would make a good double bill. Dodgeball is more goofy and good-natured, belonging to the same anarchic, anything-for-laughs school of comedy as Caddyshack and Starsky And Hutch.
With lead actors Vince Vaughn and Christine Taylor playing it mostly straight, the supporting cast are free to steal the show. Rip Torn is memorable as the Average Joes' gruff coach, as are Gary Cole and Jason Bateman as a pair of inane ESPN commentators but it's Ben Stiller who walks away with the movie. His villainous White Goodman is a brilliant comic character, a preening narcissist who pumps up his inflatable codpiece and tries to look intelligent by pretending to read a dictionary. Goodman joins Derek Zoolander and Dave Starsky as one of Stiller's greatest creations. There are also a number of cameos by well-known celebrities, which I won't spoil. As usual with cameos, some are funny, some are pointless and some you probably have to live in America to appreciate, but I must confess there is one - the identity of the coach of one of the rival teams - which earns the biggest laugh of the film, if not the whole year.