In 10 Words or Less
Stupid, violent, childish and hilarious
Trey Parker and Matt Stone spoofed professional sports in their first studio film, Baseketball, presenting a world of brightly colored arenas, teams of stereotypes and the ever-present strippers/cheerleaders. I'm not about to say Dodgeball is copying Baseketball, but there are plenty of similarities. But whereas the "South Park" boys' movie tanked, Dodgeball did well over $100 million at the box office. Sure, having two recognizable stars like Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller helped sell tickets, but you need a good movie behind them. Otherwise you end up with Stiller's less successful Envy. Dodgeball has the goods.
The basic story pits old-school gym owner Peter (Vaughn) against his across-the-street neighbor, meglomaniac "Globo Gym" owner White Goodman (Stiller). If he can't get $50,000 in 30 days, Peter's gym faces foreclosure by the bank, and White is more than ready to step in and wipe the little gym off the map to make room for more parking. But since this is a movie, Peter's eccentric clan of gym rats come up with a plan to save their beloved club. By winning a national dodgeball tournament, they can earn the necessary cash. Problem is, they are far from the most athletic crew around. From Steve the Pirate to pudgy Gordon (Office Space's Stephen Root) to high-school dweeb Justin (Justin Long, Galaxy Quest), this group has no chance to win.
Director/writer Rawson Marshall Thurber, the man behind the hilarious "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker" ads, calls on Sports Film Cliche #245, introducing dodgeball legend Patches O'Houlihan (Rip Torn, "The Larry Sanders Show") as the coach who can mold this group of outcasts into champions. First seen in an old film strip on the sport (portrayed hilariously by Hank Azaria), O'Houlihan has lost his mind, and trains the guys by tossing wrenches at them in a painful and laugh-inducing training sequence (Sports Film Cliche #128). From there, the movie settles into the sports film groove, as the tournament, with a wide variety of bizarre teams, speeds towards the final. If anyone can't guess who's playing there, I would be amazed.
Sports Film Cliche #467 shows its head, when a love story crops up between Pete and Kate (Christine Taylor, Zoolander), the bank rep working the foreclosure. As Thurber himself says during the commentary (see "The Extras"), she's an absolute homage to The Bad News Bears as she's a better athlete than anyone on Pete's team. White gives her every reason in the world to join forces with Pete, with Stiller playing White with every bit of disgusting ego he can muster. Stiller's been making a good career out of recycling his old "The Ben Stiller Show" characters, and White is no exception, combining his Club Fredrick character with his Tony Bobbins bit. Whether it's old or new, it's still hilarious. This role is so over-the-top that everything he does, every face he makes brings a laugh.
Thurber had a very funny cast to work with, with some great cameos by Gary Cole, Jason Bateman, William Shatner and a certain lifeguard, and he didn't waste them, creating some excellent set pieces. The character development among Pete's team isn't the strongest, but that was a decision made to improve the pace, and it worked. The movie flies, with a good laugh in just about every scene, and it never slows down enough to lose the audience. Vaughn is the straight-man here, and his performance, though low-key, is just what the movie needed to ground it in reality, a key to any sports film, whether it's a comedy or drama. If you can't believe in the game at the core, you can't follow the story. Dodgeball doesn't suffer from any such problems.
Don't forget to stick around until the end of the credits for a bizarre riff on moviegoers by one of the film's characters. It's worth the wait.
Available in widescreen and full-screen editions, Dodgeball hits home theaters on one reasonably packed DVD, packaged in a standard keepcase, without an insert. The animated main menu, featuring footage from the film, are in anamorphic widescreen, and present animated scene selections, language (English 5.1, French 2.0 and Spanish 2.0) and subtitle (English and Spanish) options, special features and a Fox promo piece. The submenus are a mix of animation and static screens. This review is of the widescreen version.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen, at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film is as crisp as anything I've seen, with dead-on color and deep, solid blacks. The scenes in the arena at the tournament have very dark backgrounds to enhance the colorful court and uniforms, and these moments come off perfectly. If there were any problems with this transfer, I didn't see them. The audio, presented in 5.1 surround, is equally impressive, but not the all-out effort you might expect for a high-energy movie like this. I came in thinking the dodgeball scenes would give my system a challenge, but the panning and surround effects just weren't as powerful as I though they would be. The sides and rear do a good job of putting the viewer right in the middle of the movie, but it's not as immersive as it could have been. The curse of comedy perhaps.
The big extra here is a commentary with Thurber, Stiller and Vaughn. The trio is relaxed and not overly enthusiastic, but there's plenty of good making-of info and jokes between them. One of the big themes is the list of things Fox told them they couldn't say, but they say them anyway. I've always thought Stiller wasn't particularly funny off-screen, but he does a good job, along with his co-commentators of making this track an entertaining listen. Cinephiles won't be too enthused about the lack of real info "meat," but it's Dodgeball, not The Seventh Seal.
The director is back to provide commentary on several deleted and extended scenes, as well as an alternate ending. The additional scenes are mostly of the extended variety, fleshing out existing scenes. The video quality is that of a workprint. These are best watched with Thurber's commentary, as he explains the whys and wherefores of each scene.
The "alternate" ending is actually the director's intended ending. If that's true, it was an odd decision, because it actually is a very weak, sudden finish. Thurber talks about it in a commentary track, but it's hard to tell if he's kidding or not. In addition to the deleted footage, there's an outtake reel that has some good laughs, especially when it comes to the ref's scenes.
There are four featurettes included on this DVD, all of which were created to fall in line with the film's sense of humor. First up is "Dodgeball Boot Camp: Training for Dodgeball," which focuses on the actors' preparation for the grueling action sequences in the film. If this was to be believed, these guys would be ready for the pros. Two movie-focused segments follow, as "The Anatomy of a Hit" talks about physical comedy and how to get a real laugh from a thrown wrench, while "Justin Long: A Study in Ham & Cheese" shows extended and alternate takes by the gangly Jimmy Fallon-esque actor. It seems like the director just let film roll when it came to Long's scenes, resulting in some truly goofy footage. The final featurette, "Dodgeball: Go for the Gold" is a half-hearted campaign by the cast to get dodgeball recognized as an Olympic sport. The four featurettes are almost extensions of the movie, and are better than most I've seen lately.
Several trailers can be found on this disc as well, including two for Dodgeball, while the "Fox First Look" is a preview of the upcoming Elektra movie, with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, film clips and interview moments with Jennifer Garner. You can also check out Dodgeball's script by putting the disc into your DVD-ROM drive.
For those looking to get more out of this DVD, there's a set of easter eggs to be found, starting with an introductory screen which gives instructions as to how to find the rest. It's made up mostly of extra footage, but also includes a second commentary featuring Thurber on his own. He holds his own as a first-timer, slipping into watching mode only occasionally. A bit self-deprecating, he focuses mainly on the technical while apologizing, saying "Hi" to his mom and talking about the friends he put in the movie.
The Bottom Line
Dodgeball is a very good blend of sports film and comedy, with an excellent cast. And though the director has an advertising background, he doesn't succumb to an MTV-style editing job, delivering a straight-forward and well-made movie. Fox has complimented the film with a good amount of extras, all of which are pretty entertaining, including an intriguing set of easter eggs. If you're a fan of Stiller and his films, this movie is right up your alley, but it should appeal to just about anyone, with a good mix of physical comedy and punny humor.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.