Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Review of Dodgeball (2004)

Dodgeball is a riveting and sharp comedy about a sport we all stopped taking seriously after our last elementary school gym class.

Vince Vaughn plays Peter LaFluer, owner of a rundown gym called Average Joe's. His membership total consists of just five, but nevertheless, the personable LaFluer is happy to be of service to his clients, even if they are all pathetically out of shape and a little off the norm. His gym is in financial trouble, however, and LaFluer is notified at the start of the film that he has thirty days to pay off its loan or it will be shut down. LaFluer's gym will be bought out by Globo, owned by the villainous White Goodman. Stiller pulls out the stops as Goodman, taking every opportunity to make himself dislike-able so that his demise at the film's end will be all the more sweeter.

In need of a desperate solution, LaFluer and his clients sit down in his office and brainstorm. The solution comes from Gordon (Root) who reads in his magazine Obscure Sports Quarterly about an upcoming dodgeball tournament in which they could win the required money, so the ragtag bunch sets out to learn the sport and win the tournament. Their biggest obstacle is that in order to ensure Average Joe's shutdown, Goodman fields a team of bodybuilders to win the tournament and deny LaFluer the money, setting the stage for a David vs Goliath match up in the upcoming tournament.

If there's one thing, aside from the satire, that there is to love about this movie, it's the quirky group of guys who comprise LaFluer's team. With the exception of Dwight (Williams), whose quirkiest attribute is his hatred of his previous job at the airport, the group is a very creative assemblage of underdogs. Vaughn plays the straight man, next to Stiller, his own team, and pretty much everyone else in the movie. You'd think that the love interest Christine Taylor as the lawyer, initially hired by Goodman to shut down Average Joe's but ends up joining the team out of disgust for the villain, but she turns out to have her own weird attributes.

In a sense, Dodgeball is sort of a quasi-sports film because it centers around a sport that doesn't actually exist in terms of a spectator base, and uses that to poke fun at some of the sillier aspects of our present-day athletic culture. Be warned, this film is merciless, attacking everything from bodybuilders to ESPN to team uniforms. I particularly found it hilarious that the tournament was broadcast on ESPN 8, which probably is only a couple years away at this rate, and that one of the sports commentators (Arrested Development's Jason Bateman) knew absolutely nothing of what he was talking about.

The movie gets caught up in all the satire, however, and towards the end drifts off into an absurd ending that really left a bad taste in my mouth. The ending threw so much of reality out the window, that it felt like a Mel Brooks film, which is a shame because up until the last couple minutes, the film did a terrific job at cracking out hilarious jokes within the context of a story. Looking back, though, the first couple of hours more than make up for the last couple of minutes, and I would have rather the movie aimed high and missed a couple notes, rather than being safe and not being as funny.

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