After the triple whammy of Greg Focker, Derek Zoolander and Chas Tenenbaum, Ben Stiller could be forgiven for taking a few years off to recover. However, his comedic talent bounced into theatres yet again in the summer of 2004 in the form of White Goodman, his most outrageous character to date. Though the sum of its parts make it truly memorable, it is largely due to Stiller’s outrageous self- and fitness-obsessed gym owner that “Dodgeball” remains one of the most quotable and hilariously dumb movies of the new millennium. Like the true underdog that it is, the tale written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber fought its way past expectations and made it to the top, eventually raking in its modest budget eight-fold.
Owner of “Average Joe’s Gym” Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn) and his loveable band of losers (that includes Justin Long, Alan Tudyk and Chris Williams) are stumped when hot-shot lawyer Kate Veach (Catherine Taylor) informs them that they have 30 days to repay their $50,000 debt before the bulldozers roll in. In desperation, they enter the national Dodgeball championships with their eyes on the healthy cash prize that would save the gym. However, the owner and founder of “Globo-Gym” (Stiller) who wants to build a parking-garage for his “beacon of human perfection” gym is also in the tournament, determined to see the foreclosure of “Average Joe’s” through. After a sorry display in a regional qualifying match (that they win only because a member of the opposing girl-scout team tested positive for beaver tranquilliser), our heroes get the backing of retired dodgeball all-star and coach Patches O’Houlihan (Rip Torn). With expectations low as ever, the team – also including the newly recruited Kate Veach – head to Las Vegas to have their shot at the final. It’s a non-stop rat-a-tat pile-up of gag upon gag that will take repeat viewing to catch them all. These take both a physical slapstick form and a highly intelligent one: On the one hand there’s something oddly satisfying about seeing people getting walloped by rubber balls (amongst other implements of pain) and on the other, there’s outrageously smart dialogue littered with kiss-off lines and bad jokes from Stiller that would put Arnie to shame.
But while White Goodman steals the show, there’s immense comedy delivered by the entire cast. Vince Vaughn is provided with one of the best roles of his career, sharing significant chemistry with Taylor (who is Ben Stiller’s real-life wife) and creating the sort of likeable (for lack of a better phrase) average Joe that grounds the movie when things threaten to get out of hand. Every supporting character gets his or her moments to shine, again with extremely humorous results. Rip Torn is clearly having a ball with his character, cheerfully throwing out politically incorrect insults (and wrenches) left, right and center. Strewn among the action are a set of great cameos from the likes of David Hasselhoff, Missi Pyle, Jason Bateman, Chuck Norris (!), Lance Armstrong and, in the film’s best sequence of a 30s sports infomercial, Hank Azaria as a young patches O’Houlihan. There are a few weak parts but even they are largely punctuated with great gags that breeze over these scenes and they are often acknowledged with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge poke by the filmmakers. For example, a spoilerific item towards the climax is conveniently labeled “Deus ex Machina.”
Theodore Shapiro is one of the least appreciated composers in Hollywood, one that tirelessly churns out low-key scores for romantic comedies or, well, Ben Stiller movies. As a rule of thumb, these scores rarely get released commercially and like “13 Going on 30,” “Dodgeball” is no exception. And that despite the fact that Shapiro gets to have more fun than usual here: Likeable electronics with guitars and light drums accompany Vince Vaughn and Co. which explode with full force into the sports anthems of the film’s latter half. It’s a powerful and enjoyable listening experience in the film as the score, like any good parody, simply plays it straight with heroics and does not focus too much on the comedy. The variety of styles are all comfortably handled by Shapiro and for fans it is well worth seeking out a rare promo score released by the composer around the time of the film’s release. In the meantime we can only hope that maybe, just maybe, someone might decide to give this score an official release.
Chock-a-block with laugh-out-loud moments, “Dodgeball” is by no means a weak entry in the Stiller cannon. Though often labeled as a “dumb” comedy, vast stretches of it are in fact very intelligent indeed. See it if you can and just take care of your balls – and they’ll take care of you!
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