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Dusty: Dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion, and degradation.
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Writer: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Stars: Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Rip Torn, Justin Long, Stephen Root, Alan Tudyk
Release Date: June 18, 2004 (United States)
Run time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Peter LaFleur owns Average Joe’s, a small, dilapidated gym with low membership and staffing. When he defaults on the gym’s mortgage, his cocky and vindictive business rival White Goodman, who owns Globo Gym across the street, purchases it, planning to foreclose on and demolish Average Joe’s to build a new auxiliary parking structure for his members unless Peter can raise $50,000 in 30 days. Goodman attempts to seduce attorney Katherine “Kate” Veatch, who is handling his account; repulsed, she cites conflict of interest (COI) to rebuff his disturbing advances.
Peter, gym employees Dwight Baumgarten and Owen Dittman, and members Steve “Pirate” Cowan, Justin Redman, and Gordon Pibb unite to raise the required money. After an impromptu car wash suggested by Owen fails, Gordon suggests entering a dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas with a $50,000 grand prize. Justin obtains a 1950s-era training film featuring Irish-American dodgeball legend Patches O’Houlihan, which the group watches before participating in the sub-regional qualifiers the following day. Girl Scout Troop 417 easily defeats them, but one member’s use of three separate types of anabolic steroids and a low-grade beaver tranquilizer results in their disqualification, effectively naming Average Joe’s the winner by default.
Having spied on Average Joe’s using a hidden camera in a cutout of himself, Goodman forms his own team, the Globo Gym Purple Cobras, surprising Gordon by revealing that his extremely personal friendship with the chancellor allowed him to bypass the mandatory qualification match. After watching their confrontation, Patches, now an elderly man who uses a wheelchair, approaches Peter, volunteering to coach the team. Patches’ unusual training regimen involves having them dodge wrenches, oncoming cars, and his constant insults. Kate demonstrates skill at the sport but declines to join the team, citing COI. Goodman arrives at Kate’s house uninvited and announces that he misled her bosses about her stealing and drinking on the job, thus getting her fired from her law firm and freeing him to date her. Enraged, but now free of COI, she rejects Goodman and joins the Average Joe’s team.
Despite early setbacks, the team advances to the final round against Globo Gym. The night before the match, a falling sign in the casino kills Patches. Returning to his room, Peter encounters Goodman, who greedily offers him $100,000 for the deed to Average Joe’s, claiming that Peter will inevitably cause its closure. Demoralized, and anxious that the team will lose without Patches’s motivation, Peter chastises Steve’s pirate behavior upon returning to the group, causing Steve’s departure. The day of the final round, Justin assists his classmate and love interest Amber in a cheerleading competition after his bully and rival Derek becomes severely injured, leaving Average Joe’s short of players. Peter briefly encounters Lance Armstrong, who restores his morale, and rejoins his team, but he and Justin return too late; Average Joe’s has already forfeited. After Gordon discovers that a majority of the judges can overturn the forfeiture, the tie-breaking vote from Chuck Norris reinstates the team.
After an intense game, Peter and Goodman have a sudden-death match. Inspired by Patches’ spirit, Peter blindfolds himself, evades Goodman’s throw and strikes him in the face, winning the championship and the prize money. Goodman nullifies the victory, revealing that Peter sold Average Joe’s to him the previous night, but Peter explains he used Goodman’s $100,000 to bet on Average Joe’s victory; with the odds against them at 50 to 1, he collects $5 million. Since Globo Gym is a publicly traded company, as Kate explains, Peter purchases a controlling interest in it, thus regaining Average Joe’s, then publicly fires Goodman. Steve returns, now appearing more normal, but revives his pirate persona when Peter reveals their winnings as “buried treasure”. Joyce, a friend of Kate’s who caught an earlier flight from Guam to witness the final match, arrives and kisses her passionately, shocking Peter, but Kate then reveals her bisexuality and kisses Peter similarly. Kate becomes Peter’s girlfriend, Justin and Amber get married with a baby on the way, and Owen begins dating Fran Stalinovskovichdaviddivichski from the Globo Gym team. Later on, Peter opens youth dodgeball classes at a newly renovated Average Joe’s, while a disgraced Goodman becomes depressed and morbidly obese, blaming Norris for his plight.
For the first thirty minutes of watching Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, I was wondering if I would finish while also severely judging my former self for having had a high opinion of this comedy. The movie is dumb and the story is lazy. However, almost like the film was somehow releasing laughing gas into the room as I watched it, it got funnier and funnier despite getting even more dumb, absurd, and lazy. By the end, I thought it was hilarious and had a high opinion of it once again. There’s a fine art to absurdism. Committing to a ridiculous bit does not inherently make the story eventually funny. Dodgeball works because it does a great job of setting up its jokes and then surprising you with more and more surprises and payoffs as you go along. By the end you realize this dumb and lazy story wasn’t actually lazy at all. It’s quite diligent and clever in its dumbness.
Dodgeball is rated PG-13 but pushes the comedy envelope enough that I think a lot of parents would be pretty uncomfortable with their young teenager seeing it. There is a lot of casual sexism, racism, sexual innuendo, violence, and vulgarity throughout. All of this is delivered in a silly-fun way, and clearly not intended to be taken seriously, but the material is nonetheless quite mature.
The comedy of the story is rooted in parody of the standard sports movie genre. The sport of dodgeball is part of the joke, as are the people who participate in it (we see teams of Girl Scouts, Lumberjacks, and an over-the-top portrayal of a German national team, etc.) You aren’t supposed to take any of this very seriously. Part of the joke also is how few other dodgeball teams there are and how easy and quick it was to compete at its highest level. Average Joe’s formed a team, and six total games later, was world champions. The stakes are simultaneously high and low, with TV coverage for the tournament, but the channel providing said TV coverage being ESPN 8, “The Ocho.”
Even the movie’s portrayal of its good guys and bad guys is questionable because it inverted the standard story. The somewhat self-made man, who lost weight, got in shape, and started a gym is the bad guy. His hard work is portrayed in a comedically negative way, emphasizing his over-compensation for his insecurities. Meanwhile, the lazy, tall, good-looking guy who does not bother to do the most basic aspects of running his gym business, and had to be talked into saving his gym rather than letting it die, is portrayed as the hero. The good guy then stumbles into an unearned fortune and takes everything away from the self-made bad guy, leaving him completely ruined both personally and professionally as the movie ends.
Much of the rest of the good guy crew is also questionable. The female lead Kate (Christine Taylor) has an expansive unicorn collection in her home that calls into question her mental health. Another member of the team, Steve, believes that he is a pirate and at one point in the story suffers a mental crisis when that identity is called into question. Average Joe’s dodgeball coach, Patches O’Houlihan, is completely deranged.
This all sounds negative but somehow this is so absurd, surprising, and over-the-top that it works well.
Ben Stiller is hilarious as White Goodman, the profoundly insecure and manic, yet successful, predatory gym owner. The small and subtle details of this performance are what set it apart.
Vince Vaugh is great as the lazy but charming Peter LaFleur. His go-along-to-get-along persona sets him up to deliver a lot of really great deadpan one-liners throughout the movie. It’s not entirely clear whether he even likes a lot of the people surrounding him, or whether he is just so indifferent to everything that he doesn’t care.
Lance Armstrong: Could I get a bottle of water. – – Hey, aren’t you Peter La Fleur?
Peter La Fleur: Lance Armstrong!
Lance Armstrong: Yeah, that’s me. But I’m a big fan of yours.
Peter La Fleur: Really?
Lance Armstrong: Yeah, I’ve been watching the dodgeball tournament on the Ocho. ESPN 8. I just can’t get enough of it. But, good luck in the tournament. I’m really pulling for you against those jerks from Globo Gym. I think you better hurry up or you’re gonna be late.
Peter La Fleur: Uh, actually I decided to quit… Lance.
Lance Armstrong:: Quit? You know, once I was thinking about quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer, all at the same time. But with the love and support of my friends and family, I got back on the bike and I won the Tour de France five times in a row. But I’m sure you have a good reason to quit. So what are you dying from that’s keeping you from the finals?
Peter La Fleur: Right now it feels a little bit like… shame.
Lance Armstrong:: Well, I guess if a person never quit when the going got tough, they wouldn’t have anything to regret for the rest of their life. But good luck to you Peter. I’m sure this decision won’t haunt you forever.
Peter La Fleur: You need some help leaving White?
White Goodman: This doesn’t concern you, Lafleur.
Peter La Fleur: Not nearly as much as your hair does, that’s for sure, but uh, I believe she asked you to leave.
White Goodman: I get it, you caught the scent of a lesser stag in your nostrils. Pity. I’ll let you have your little moment, LaFleur, ’cause after this tournament, your gym, your life – and your gal – are gonna be mine. To be continued.
[Reaches up to caress her]
Kate Veatch: [Judo-grabs White Goodman and slams his face into the wall, leaving a streak of makeup] You don’t get to touch me, ever!
Peter La Fleur: Okay, Romeo, let me help you up.
White Goodman: Get off of me, don’t you touch me! It is over between us, Kate. Nobody makes me bleed my own blood – nobody!
If you’re looking for a comedy that will make you laugh, and if you’re old enough to digest a lot of adult humor, then I recommend giving Dodgeball a re-watch.