By Pete Vonder Haar | December 21, 2005

Of the many ancient truths we’ve learned from the likes of The Dukes of Hazzard and Walking Tall, it’s that Johnny Knoxville is in no danger of garnering an Oscar nomination any time soon. Unless, that is, the Academy creates a new category for Best Compound Leg Fracture or Best Football to the Groin.

But with “The Ringer,” we have a bit of a conundrum. The list of past Best Actor winners is chock full of guys who impressed voters with their roles as autistic (Dustin Hoffman), schizoaffective (Geoffrey Rush), or psychotic (Anthony Hopkins) characters. Now, Knoxville has his chance to electrify audiences with his sensitive and nuanced portrayal of normal guy Steve Barker (a man in rather dire financial straits) who decides to pose as a mentally challenged man named “Jeffy” in order to fix the Special Olympics with his unscrupulous Uncle Gary (Brian Cox).

Or maybe not. Look, there is one major assumption we need to do away with quickly: the one that says “The Ringer” is awful because of the terrible way it treats the mentally handicapped extras. Considering it has the blessing of the Special Olympics, whose observers were reportedly monitoring the proceedings, this seems unlikely. Besides, half the athletes portrayed are actually played by non-“special” (albeit goofy looking) actors.

No, “The Ringer” is astoundingly craptastic not because the handicapped are handled poorly (though if they were paid more than union scale I’d be surprised), but because it’s one of the most singularly unfunny films ever made. Recent years have seen their share of horrifically bad comedies (The Man, any so-called comedy Steve Martin’s made since 1988), but “The Ringer” deserves special censure for being almost entirely bereft of laughs. Every gag is set up to such an extent that even (ahem) a developmentally disabled person could see them coming. Knoxville almost seems ashamed of himself, if that’s even possible, and his scenes with Cox and co-star Katherine Heigl are even less believable than the already low performance standard we’ve come to expect from him.

It’s hard to imagine a more unpleasant experience than sitting through “The Ringer,” but if I had to take a stab at it, I’d say the only situation that comes close is sitting in your doctor’s waiting room, simultaneously suffering from a migraine headache, walking pneumonia, and prolapsed hemorrhoids while the guy next to you loudly opines about yesterday’s episode of Dr. Phil and repeatedly empties his colostomy bag on your shoes. That might come close.

I said there were no laughs, and there really aren’t, unless (like the Rhodes scholars at the screening I attended) hearing a retarded man make sexual innuendoes or seeing Knoxville get hit in the balls for what is probably the millionth time in his life makes you cackle. Steve/Jeffy obligingly gets the crap kicked out of him throughout the film, which might also be to your liking. If so, please buy a ticket for “The Ringer” with my compliments.

Just do us all a favor and also register for voluntary sterilization. It’ll be for the best.

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