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By Peter Lowry | July 13, 2004

I’ll be perfectly honest with you: when I first heard about this film, I was very reluctant to see it. The fact that Ben Stiller is in it almost repelled me because his last few films he’s been in have been less than impressive. Still, I gave the film a chance anyway and came out somewhat delighted that I did. This movie proved how one should never underestimate how funny it is to watch someone get pasted upside the head with a big red ball. I have to admit, “Dodgeball” is a hell of a lot better than I ever thought it was going to be. Even Ben Stiller is alright as he’s given a role more complimenting to his talents. Combine that with a good lead actor and a good percentage of the cast of “Office Space”, and you have yourselves a rather funny film that is worth checking out if you’re in the mood to see a funny alternative to this year’s serious action blockbusters.

Vince Vaughn shines in this movie in the role of Pete LaFleur, the owner of a run down gym known as ‘Average Joe’s’. He does rather well playing the low-key average guy who’s just trying to coast through life and not worry about things too much. Pete’s easygoing lifestyle lands him in trouble as his bills and mortgages drive him into near bankruptcy. His competition from across the street, Global Gym, wants to buy him out, but rather than give in to the competition… Pete is talked into by his regulars to submitting a team to the Dodgeball tournament to win the money needed to keep their gym. I liked Vaughn’s performance, as he seemed very comfortable and easy going with the romantic lead. It came so easily to him to the point where it was easy to accept him as this easy going guy, even though this is the same actor who played Norman Bates in the “Psycho” remake. Pete is a flawed character that, while tempted to take the easy way out, turns out to be the kind of guy who’s around to help out his friends when they really need him most. This makes Pete the kind of character an audience finds easy to like and cheer for as the film progresses.

Ben Stiller, unlike his previous performances, actually does a lot better here in the role that is a polar opposite of his last few romantic leads. This time he plays the bad guy. He does quite well playing White Goodman, the dim witted, aggressive a*****e that’s trying to toss Pete and his gang out of their gym. Stiller is able to shine a little more as the guy everyone loves to hate – the more he acts like a jerk, the more we all want to see him get nailed upside the head with a Dodgeball as soon as possible. It’s a role he might what to consider trying again as the people seemed to really respond to this performance a lot more than his last few kicks at the can. I for one loathed this character, which makes his performance a complete success all the way to his last line that managed to generate a strong roar just before the credits rolled.

The rest of the cast is also just as funny, especially Rip Torn who is hilarious as Patches O’Houlihan, the teams Dodgeball coach. He’s off-the-wall insane and just the right thing needed, as he was the yang to Vaughn’s ying. The rest of the Dodgeball team is a sweet group of goofy characters, and Christine Taylor’s performance as the female romantic lead was a nice addition… but her storyline with Pete, while progressing nicely over the course of the film, is toned down so that it doesn’t take away from the film’s main attraction, which is the goofy, violent Dodgeball games.

Just like “The Bad News Bears” and even “Happy Gilmore”, “Dodgeball” really is a comedy about the body blows and the lovable losers who get their faces pushed into the dirt. It’s a glowing example of what we would refer to as the “Angry Sports” genre, with films that are both funny and heart warming at the same time as we root for our underdog losers to rise above their opponent and claim victory against all odds. You can easily tell that director Rawson Thurber used many sports classics when writing up this film’s script, paying homage to many of them as the film went along. It was cool to see some classic scenes replaced with a sport that is as lethal and cruel as Dodgeball, a game we all used to play as kids. Many of us know the pain that little red ball can dish out, so in a way the audience could feel the pain of those getting beaten with each toss.

As for the physical comedy, there’s no splitting hairs about it. Either you like this kind of humor and laugh your a*s off, or you don’t. I was actually surprised by how much I roared at the movie’s blatant attempt to generate laughs by putting the characters through a boatload of pain. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard at seeing a young man get beaned in the head with a wrench. Thurber was able to successfully capture an obscene amount of hilarity by using each Dodgeball scene to their utmost effectiveness. He took full advantage of that unforgettable red ball and the distinctive sound it makes to generate some laughs when it smashes someone in the face. Seriously, how can anyone really not laugh at Ben Stiller taking a Dodgeball right in the nose? I can’t, and I doubt many others couldn’t either.

Overall, “Dodgeball” is a good film because it manages to generate the laughs it was made to create without getting too corny and mushy in the process. It’s a fine addition to the underdog sports genre, and is a film that I’m sure many will enjoy and laugh at for years to come. Thurber’s script might be paper-thin and clichéd, but this story is enough to get us to the best parts, which is the Dodgeball championships at the end which are fun to watch and chalked up with some cool cameos for a few more added laughs. I enjoyed the film not only because it was decent, but also because it touched the child inside that remembered playing that great game in schoolyards and gyms. Damn, did that red ball sting like a mother…

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