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Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story Review

By Shawn McKenzie 04/18/2005

I screened Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story when I first saw it in the theaters back in June of last year.  Unfortunately, I got backlogged, and then I had a stroke (see the details of it here.)  I do remember thinking that it was one of the funniest movies of 2004, and the funniest of the five Ben Stiller movies of that year (though I still haven’t seen Meet the Fockers yet; the other three are Along Came Polly, Starsky & Hutch, and Envy.)  It looks like over half of the other critics on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer agree with me, so I’d like to throw my two cents in for this flick.

Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn) is a regular schmo who owns a gym called Average Joe’s Gym.  The place is run down, and the patrons of the gym rarely make payments, but despite his mounting bills, everyone is happy.  Meanwhile, Peter’s competitor, White Goodman (Stiller), wants to buy out the mortgage on Average Joe’s Gym to make room for a parking lot for his gym, the high tech Globo Gym.  Peter’s bank, Hawthorne/Stone, is in the process of foreclosing on Average Joe’s Gym, and bank lawyer Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor) is in charge of processing the sale to White.  She tells Peter that if he doesn’t pay the bank $50,000 in 30 days, White will own the gym.  Peter turns to his employees from the gym to help, including skinny nerd Owen (Joel David Moore), who works for Peter as the towel manager and has trouble with the women; and employee Dwight Baumgarten (Chris Williams), a former Globo Gym trainer who seems like he is gay, but isn’t.  Peter also turns to other friends from the gym, all of which are dedicated to saving it.  Steve the Pirate (Alan Tudyk) is a guy who thinks that he’s a pirate (natch.)  Justin Redman (Justin Long) is a high school student who just wants to be a cheerleader for the West Davenport Charging Donkeys so that he can impress a girl named Amber (Julie Gonzalo), who is dating a fellow male cheerleader named Derek (Trever O’Brien.)  Finally, there’s Gordon Pibb (Stephen Root), who likes to read Obscure Sports Quarterly (OSQ) and is married to a mail order bride (Suzy Nakamura) who doesn’t love him.  After first trying to do a car wash to make some money (which ends up costing them money), Peter pretty much gives up and waits for White’s people to tear the gym down.  Suddenly, Gordon gets a great idea.  After reading about the Las Vegas International Dodgeball Open in OSQ, he convinces them that they should compete in the tournament, because the prize is exactly $50,000 to the winning team.  After luckily qualifying for the tournament (Average Joe’s Gym wins in the qualification round when the opposing team, a troop of Girl Scouts, are disqualified after one of them tests positive for enhancement drugs), they compete for the top prize.  When White hears about Peter’s team competing in the open, he forms his own team to take on Peter.  White’s team, the Globo Gym Purple Cobras, consist of White’s large assistant Me’Shell Jones (Jamal E. Duff), Eastern European dodgeball champion Fran Stalinofskivichdavidovitchsky (Missi Pyle) of Romanovia, and three similar-looking players named Blade (Rusty Joiner), Lazer (Kevin Porter), and Blazer (Brandon Molale.)  Peter eventually recruits Kate to join their team, because she has a killer dodgeball arm and because White had her fired the day before, since he wanted to date her.  Renowned dodgeball champion Patches O’Houlihan (Rip Torn), whom Peter’s team recognize from an old dodgeball instruction film (Hank Azaria plays a young Patches in the film), also helps them by offering to be their coach.  The tournament is broadcast on ESPN8 (“The Ocho”) and it is called by play-by-play announcer Cotton McKnight (Gary Cole) and color commentator Pepper Brooks (Jason Bateman.)  Both teams play other teams in the tournament, including a German team headed by David Hasselhoff (appearing as himself), a team of lumberjacks, a team of gangsta rappers, and a team consisting of Los Angeles police officers.  Finally, Average Joe’s Gym is up against the Globo Gym Purple Cobras in the final round.  White makes Peter an offer of $100,000 to back out, and with some of his fellow teammates having problems of their own at this point, he considers taking the money.  He could use the money to pay off the debt he owes to the bank, but it might jeopardize his friendships.

While the story is your basic David and Goliath tale, the performances make it hilarious.  The two leads, Vaughn and Taylor, have no sexual chemistry, and they both underplay their roles.  Vaughn, who is usually the funnier half of the duo of him and Jon Favreau (stars of 1996’s Swingers and 2001’s Made), becomes the straight man here.  Taylor, who is married to Stiller and will be forever known as the movie Marcia Brady from the first two Brady movies, becomes the straight woman here as well.  This isn’t fairing too well for my statement above in this paragraph, but go with me on this.  Their understated performances allow the rest of the cast to shine (isn’t that part of teamwork?)  Almost all of the supporting characters are memorable.  Stiller is essentially channeling the same character he played in the 1995 Disney flick Heavyweights, and that was one of the funniest roles I’ve ever seen him in.  If you haven’t seen this little-known family comedy, I highly recommend it.  Speaking of channeling a past character, Root plays the same character he played in 1999’s Office Space, and it is funny to see it again.  While we are still on the channeling kick, I noticed that Long’s character is similar to his character of Warren, the goofy high school kid from NBC’s “Ed.”  Also, Torn’s character of Patches seems to be just an exaggerated, crippled version of Arthur, the character he played on HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” (fortunately, this is a good thing.)  This movie seems to be a greatest hits of funny characters.  Turning to the original characters... Tudyk is amusing as Steve the Pirate.  I know that the actor has already been in several movies so far, but I first noticed him in the short-lived cult classic FOX TV show “Firefly.”  The pirate thing didn’t make any sense, but it probably wasn’t meant to.  The team of Cole and Bateman were entertaining.  My favorite Cole character is Mike Brady from the Brady movies, and my favorite Bateman character is Michael Bluth, the character he currently plays on the Emmy-winning FOX TV show “Arrested Development.”  They fortunately don’t channel either of these characters, and I could see their goofball chemistry being a nice addition to either a Dodgeball sequel or another sports comedy.

I may be late in reviewing Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, but I still recommend it.  Rawson Marshall Thurber, the director for the memorable Superbowl Reebok commercial “Terry Tate, Office Linebacker,” wrote and directed this flick.  He is going to be one that I’ll have to be looking out for.  The DVD is decent, with lots of deleted/alternate scenes (including the original ending), a couple of commentaries, and some short features.  There are a few Easter eggs on the disc (which can be found every time White snaps his fingers during the movie), but they are kind of lame.  Rent it or buy it from your local video store and you too will agree with me that it is the funniest out of the five Stiller performances of 2004.


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