Fox // 2004 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 15th, 2008
Grab life by the balls.
"If you want to have dodgeball victory, you have to grab it by its haunches and you gotta hump it into submission!"
Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn, Fred Claus) is just an ordinary guy living an ordinary life. He hasn't accomplished much of anything, but that's okay...it's not like he has any actual goals or dreams. Peter spends his days running Average Joe's Gym. The place doesn't make much money, but Peter gets by. Or, maybe not. Average Joe's is deeply in debt, and Peter only has 30 days to raise $50,000. Unless he comes up with the money, Globo-Gym owner and supreme jerk White Goodman (Ben Stiller, Meet the Parents) will be taking over Average Joe's. Suddenly, one of Peter's customers comes up with an idea. What if Peter were to form a dodgeball team and compete in a Las Vegas tournament? There just so happens to be a $50,000 grand prize for the winner of the tournament. White is determined to do anything necessary to take over Average Joe's, so he forms his own dodgeball team. Which man will be king of the balls?
A cheerful celebration of incredibly brutal ball violence, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is a surprisingly entertaining romp. Stars Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn have been involved in a generous supply of mediocre comedies over the course of the past decade, but neither has any reason to be ashamed of Dodgeball. The film offers a very satisfactory blend of entertaining dialogue, spot-on casting, and amusingly aggressive physical comedy. Sure, we're dealing with a reasonably formulaic plot -- let's raise X amount of dollars via wacky scheme X in order to save X from being taken over by greedy person X. Still, the familiar structure is loaded with enjoyable goofy stuffing.
Stiller takes a break from playing nervous neurotic types to take on the role of White Goodman. The aggressive, sweaty, personal fitness-obsessed White is one of Stiller's more memorable characters. The character's eclectic wardrobe may remind some of Stiller's turn in Zoolander, and White also boasts one of the more entertaining movie mustaches. Frequently forced to play the straight man in comedies, Stiller gets a chance to break loose and serve as the unpredictable force of chaos here. It's a welcome change of pace. On the flip side of the coin, Vaughn tones down his usual comic shtick to play one of the more straightforward roles of his career. Fans of the actor miss Vaughn's wild verbal ramblings, but somebody needed to serve as a force of stability in the middle of this wacky film.
A wealth of odd supporting players join in the fun, and almost none of them disappoint. Justin Long (Live Free or Die Hard) plays a wimpy wannabe cheerleader, and Stephen Root kind of plays the cinematic equivalent of the character he voices on King of the Hill. Alan Tudyk (Firefly) is convinced that he is a pirate, and Rip Torn (Men in Black) is gloriously funny as a wheelchair-bound dodgeball champion. Gary Cole (A Simple Plan) and Jason Bateman (Hancock) do the now-clichéd goofy sports announcers routine, and manage to squeeze a few laughs out of the idea. You'll also be treated to fun cameos from William Shatner, Chuck Norris, Lance Armstrong, and David Hasselhoff.
Typically, I'm not a huge fan of comedy-based genital abuse (or really, any form of genital abuse). How many movies have we seen in which somebody gets hit in the balls for a laugh? Remember Mike Judge's Idiocracy? No, you didn't see it? That film predicted that in the future, the most-watched television show would be called, Ow! My Balls!. Much as that thought disappoints me, I have to admit that the shameless amounts of ball-based humor here made me laugh. The scenes of balls hitting balls are funny for the same reason that the vomit scene in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles are funny. Take anything far enough, and you can make it work. Even when crotches aren't being abused, there's still a pretty high level of physical violence here. Torn trains the team by to dodge balls by throwing wrenches at them. "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball." He has a point, but I'm surprised that any of his players actually survived practice.
Okay team, let's talk transfer. The image here seems to get stronger as the film progresses. During the action-packed second half of the film, the level of detail seems particularly strong. The film captures the glittery Las Vegas scenery quite well during this portion. However, the first half of the film is often quite uneven. Several scenes suffer from a surprisingly heavy level of grain, and facial detail is a bit weak. The "training video" sequence intentionally employs lots of scratches, flecks, and various visual distortions. Audio is perfectly adequate overall, but there's nothing remarkable. Once again, the second half of the film is a bit superior. The dodgeball sequences offer some reasonably well-distributed ball-bouncing audio. You won't hear too much in way of subwoofer action, but I still found this mix satisfactory.
There are no supplemental hi-def exclusives for this Blu-ray release, but at least the DVD extras have been retained. The biggest and best is a feature commentary with Vaughn, Stiller, and director Rawson Marshall Thurber. Not too much in the way of insight here, but it's a very entertaining track. Twelve minutes of deleted and extended scenes were mostly snipped for a reason, but they're worth checking out. "Dodgeball Boot Camp: Training for Dodgeball" (3 minutes) is a very brief look at the actors learning to play the sport. "The Anatomy of a Hit" (3 minutes) offers a quick discussion of physical comedy. "Justin Long: A Study in Ham and Cheese" (3 minutes) is a funny behind-the-scenes look at the actor goofing off, and "Dodgeball: Go for the Gold" (1 minute) features Vaughn and Stiller endorsing the idea of dodgeball as an Olympic sport. We also receive the 3 minutes of bloopers, some footage of cheerleaders, and a brief 30-second bit from Ben Stiller telling us where to find precious easter eggs. All of this stuff is very lightweight, but you'll get a few giggles.
There are moments when the formulaic nature overwhelms the comedy. The worst offender is the obligatory moment about an hour into the film when...well, I won't describe what happens. However, let me say that it's this film's equivalent of those romantic comedy scenes where the couple splits up over a stupid misunderstanding before getting back together for the grand finale. Also, Christine Taylor is given very little to do. She gets one slightly funny gag towards the end, but as far as the script is concerned, she's just "the woman."
The lack of new supplements and a merely average transfer prevent Dodgeball from being worth an upgrade. Still, the disc is worth at least a rental for those who haven't seen the film.
The film is only guilty of having plenty of big red balls. The Blu-ray is guilty of failing to provide much incentive for those considering an upgrade.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel