A low budget sleeper comedy hit written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story managed to do quite well at the box office and to perform equally as impressively on home video. Fox has now opted to bring the film to Blu-ray, and thankfully the film has lost none of it's charm or humor.
The movie follows a man named Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) who runs a small gym called Average Joe's that is pretty much on its last legs, financially speaking. When the second mortgage on the gym is bought out by White Goodman (Ben Stiller), the man who runs Globo Gym, Peter finds out that he has thirty days to come up with the $50,000 he needs to save his business or pack it in for good. While Peter seems content to call it quits and look for something else to do with his life, the small but loyal group of customers who use Average Joe's don't want to go down without a fight and eventually they decide to enter a competitive dodgeball league to win the $50,000 grand prize in hopes of saving their favorite hang out. Making things difficult for the Average Joe's team are, of course, the members of the Globo Gym team, called The Purple Cobra's, lead by Goodman himself. Peter's got his work cut out for him but his rag-tag group of gym buddies aided by the cute bank employee (Christine Taylor) and an aging dodgeball pro named Patches O'Houlihan (Rip Torn) are going to do their damndest to win the day...
While Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn are the marquee stars attached to this project, the ensemble cast - made up of Justin Long, Rip Torn, Christine Taylor, Jason Bateman, Hank Azaria and others - provide plenty of memorable, laugh out loud moments. Rawson Marshall Thurber's script is strong on character development and quirk allowing the strange cast of characters to dominate the film while filling in the actual dodgeball scenes with some great physical comedy. The dialogue is witty and clever with Stiller's slimy White Goodman epitomizing the overly-competitive dumb jock personae that makes the gym scene so obnoxious while Vaughn's Peter LaFleur is really the consummate slacker. Both actors do a fine job with the material and really make the characters their own with Stiller in particular really getting into his part and playing it with no small amount of infectious over enthusiasm. A few celebrity cameos from William Shatner, Lance Armstrong, David Hasselhoff and even Chuck Norris add a few laughs as well.
The plot might not be particularly deep or even all that original, after all, underdog sports films have been around for decades, but it is funny. Seeing a team of strange but fully grown men get clobbered by a team of girl scouts in a practice round is as funny as it sounds while the back and forth between the two warring factions in the film allow for plenty of amusing trash talking. Thurber is smart enough to keep the laughs coming at a good pace and to ensure that the comedy outweighs the sweeter side of the story or the requisite romantic subplot. The film manages to find a nice balance of screwball humor and sports film parody that taste as good together as peanut butter and chocolate. It's hard not to laugh at the film, even when you know it's ridiculous, but as far as mindless entertainment and escapism go, Dodgeball definitely fits the bill.
Fox presents Dodgeball is a nice 2.35.1 1080p AVC encoded anamorphic widescreen presentation. The movie looks surprisingly good on Blu-ray, with nice color reproduction and deep, strong black levels. Skin tones look nice and lifelike and very natural while detail levels stay strong in both the foreground and the background of the image throughout the film. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts, nor is there any heavy edge enhancement. A little bit of film grain is present throughout playback but it's never heavy or distracting and there aren't any problems at all with heavy print damage to complain about. This isn't the best looking Blu-ray disc ever released but it's a very solid transfer of a fairly low budget film - it looks quite good.
The primary audio track on this release is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track in English, though standard Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks are provided in French and Spanish. Optional subtitles are provided in English, English CC, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese and Korean. Surround activity springs to life surprisingly well during the dodgeball tournament scenes with plenty of rear channel action and fun sound effects spread throughout the mix. The rest of the film is more or less entirely dialogue driven so they're not quite as active but there is some well placed ambient and background noise to notice. Levels are well balanced throughout and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about while bass response remains strong and tight when called for without ever overpowering anything. All in all, this is a very satisfactory job on Fox's part.
Carried over from the previous standard definition DVD release is the commentary track from writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber who is joined by cast members Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller. This isn't a bad commentary track at all as the three seem to be enjoying their discussion of where some of the ideas for this film came from and what it was like working on it together. They share a few fun stories about preparing for their roles and about working with the various cast and crew members who worked on the picture with them. This isn't a particularly deep track, but it's amusing and informative enough that big fans of the film will want to give it a listen. It's also interesting to note that Thurber had pretty much all of the key cast members in mind as he was writing the script.
Up next are a couple of featurettes, the first of which is Dodgeball Bootcamp: Training For Dodgeball (3:27) which shows us what the dodgeball players have to go through to prepare for the physicality of the game. The Anatomy Of A Hit (3:25) is little more than a few minutes of the cast members getting hit with balls, while Justin Long: A Study In Ham And Cheese (3:34) is a collection of clips featuring Justin Long that don't have a whole lot of context. Dodgeball: Go For The Gold is a moderately amusing short about why dodgeball should be included as a competitive sport in the summer Olympics.
Rounding out the extra features is roughly twelve minute of deleted scenes which includes an alternate ending, a brief clip containing More With The Dodgeball Dancers (2:29) introduced by the director, and a blooper/gag reel. All of this extra material is presented in standard definition.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story holds up well. It's genuinely funny and surprisingly inspiring in spots and the solid ensemble cast all does a great job with their respective roles. Fox has carried over pretty much all of the content from the standard definition release and the upgrade in audio and video quality make this worth the upgrade. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.