Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story review by Mike Long

The sports film has now become so clichéd, that it's...well...beyond clichéd. We know that most of the time we are going to be treated to an underdog team or athlete who must train rigorously and overcome great odds to succeed. And even if the team/athlete doesn't win (which rarely happens), there's usually some uplifting moment at the end. So, it's nice when someone can bring a new twist to the sports film. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story may bring all of the well-known attributes of a sports movie to the table, but the bizarre aspect of the sport and the stellar cast make this movie a breath of fresh air.

Dodgeball tells the story of two competing gyms. GloboGym is a state-of-the-art facility which is run by the narcissistic White Goodman (Ben Stiller), a muscle-bound weirdo who preaches self-love to his clients. Across the street, we have Average Joe’s Gym, which is the baby of Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn). Average Joe’s is a dank and run-down place, inhabited by a group of shabby regulars, including, Justin (Justin Long), high-school kid who got picked on when he worked out at school; Gordon (Stephen Root), a middle-aged man who loves obscure sports; Owen (Joel Moore), a towel-boy who longs to find true love; Steve (Alan Tudyk), who thinks he’s a pirate; and Dwight (Chris Williams), who tries to remain positive about his bad job at Average Joe’s. Peter receives a visit from Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor), a financial attorney who informs Peter that he owes the bank $50,000 and that if he can’t pay it in 30 days, he’ll lose the gym. To make matters worse, if he can’t come up with the money, White Goodman will be able to buy Average Joe’s. Gordon suggests that the guys enter a dodgeball tournament where the grand prize is $50,000. Goodman learns of this and forms his own dodgeball team, comprised of huge athletes. As Peter and his team of misfits begin to train, they realize that dodgeball is much more challenging than they ever imagined.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story takes every sports movie cliché and twists it as much as possible. The guys on the Average Joe’s team aren’t just underdogs, they are complete losers. Justin was traumatized by a cheerleading tryout, Peter brushes his teeth with Yoo-Hoo, and Steve the Pirate thinks he’s a pirate. This group not only has to overcome insurmountable odds to win at dodgeball, they have to overcome these odds just to live. Just as weird is White Goodman, who takes the overblown bad-guy role to the extreme. White not only offends people with his obnoxious behavior, but also with his unusual way of speaking, where he’s constantly murdering the English language. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber has also filled the dodgeball tournament with bizarre teams, rounding out this strange world that he’s created. Much of the film’s humor comes from these misfits and the perils that they go through to get to the tournament.

While the premise and story of Dodgeball is quite funny, it’s the cast of the film that truly brings the script to life. It’s great to see Ben Stiller get away his trademarked stammering everyman character and play a truly insane villain and he gets a lot of mileage out of Goodman’s bizarre behavior. In contrast, Vince Vaughn seems to be filming another chapter in the life of his character from Old School. But, that’s OK, as Peter La Fleur comes across as one of the nicest, most good-natured men on the planet, and the viewer can’t help but feel that he’d be a cool guy to hang out with. Stiller’s wife Christine Taylor is good as the surprisingly down-to-earth Kate. Justin Long, who has shown a knack for humor in other roles, really goes for broke here, and becomes the film’s true scapegoat. Dodgeball also features some great cameos, which I won’t ruin here, but I can say that I want to see more footage of the sportcasters at the dodgeball tournament. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is a fun film which will appeal to fans of off-the-wall comedies. The movie may not fully maximize the comedic potential of its material, but there are some classic moments here, and those who like Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn won’t be disappointed.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is hurled onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film is coming to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is clear and the colors are very good, as the film features a nice array of bright colors and deep blacks. However, the transfer has a noticeable amount of edge-enhancement and every character has haloes surrounding them. Those of you who like to zoom in and eliminate the black bars (which I’ll never understand) will be out of luck, as zooming in on this image only creates a blurry, pixellated mess. There is some mild artifacting, but this pales in comparison to the haloes and slight softness to the image. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects with no hissing or distortion. The track offers a nice array of surround and subwoofer effects, and these elements really come to life during the tournament.

The Dodgeball DVD contains an assortment of extra features. Things are kicked off with an audio commentary from writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, and stars Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. This is one of those nice commentaries which is both entertaining and informative. This trio discusses the background of the film, the production, and in some of the funniest moments, how the cameos came about. This is one of those rare commentaries that you’ll want to listen to all the way through. The DVD contains 7 Deleted & Extended Scenes which total 9 minutes, and there is optional commentary by Thurber. (There is a PLAY ALL feature.) These scenes are interesting, but definitely throwaway moments, save for the “Cardio Cowboy”. The “Alternate Ending” (with optional commentary by Thurber) is actually one of the scenes from the film where Dodgeball was going to end on a down note. I love to see filmmakers stand up for their art, but I can’t believe that Thurber, Stiller, and Vaughn wanted this goofy film to end on such a down note. (Thurber actually left the film over this moment.) There are four Featurettes on the disc. “Dodgeball Boot Camp: Training for Dodgeball“ (3 minutes) contains behind-the-scenes footage of the actors playing dodgeball in order to prep for the movie. (There’s a great line from Vaughn here where he describes his physique.) With “The Anatomy of a Hit” (3 minutes), Thurber discusses physical comedy and why it’s funny to see a dodgeball hit someone. “Justin Long: A Study in Ham & Cheese” (3 minutes) spotlights this young actor and shows the many, many times he was hit with a ball. Still and Vaughn discuss their desire to see dodgeball in the Olympics in “Dodgeball: Go for the Gold” (1 minute). The extras are rounded out with a funny 3-minute Gag Reel, as well as two trailers for Dodgeball.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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