Judge Brett Cullum was surprised when the Farrelly brothers chose to remake the Japanese horror hit as a gross-out comedy. Oh, wait...
Michael: Incredible, that guy is the Deion Sanders of retards.
The Farrelly brothers have produced some classics of the gross-out comedy genre, but lately it seems they have been misfiring more often than not. The Ringer is a marginally offensive story about Johnny Knoxville (Jackass) passing himself off as mentally challenged to win the Special Olympics.
Facts of the Case
Steve Barker (Knoxville) gets a promotion at his job, but his first duty is to fire the longtime janitor for using the executive washroom. Steve doesn't have the heart to do it, so instead he hires the man to do yard work at his apartment complex. His first day on the job he loses several fingers and must have an expensive operation, but as an illegal immigrant he has no insurance. So Steve asks his deadbeat gambling uncle (Brian Cox, Manhunter) for financial help. His relative has debts of his own, but he comes up with a plan. Steve can pretend to be "retarded" and win the Special Olympics. Katherine Heigl (Grey's Anatomy) shows up at the games as an attractive volunteer, and Steve feels sparks. To complicate things further, his handicapped competitors begin to figure out he might be putting on an act. They challenge Steve to the hardest task of all, to be a better person.
Amazingly enough, The Ringer shouldn't offend the handicapped. The movie was carefully constructed; many of the actors you see are actual participants in the Special Olympics, and they are given real roles to play without any disrespect or fun at their expense. They come off as the smartest, funniest, and most real characters in the entire film. I've heard that the Farrelly brothers are sensitive to the flack they received over the mentally challenged character in There's Something About Mary and sought out advice on this picture to make sure history would not be repeated. They even succeeded in getting an endorsement from the Special Olympics Chairman for this movie. Unfortunately, I can't say their sensitive intelligence applies to the rest of the casting or the plot.
Johnny Knoxville is more of a presence than an actor. He brings with him a certain energy, a palpable spirit of gleeful chaos that carries him on the screen more than acting skills. He's a great guy, and I've enjoyed him when he's cast correctly, such as in the John Waters film A Dirty Shame. Yet here he seems embarrassed, almost apologetic, to be in the film. He also has zero chemistry with Katherine Heigl as his love interest, and that angle of the story suffers terribly as a result. His character seems like a nice caring guy, but he's still trying to fix the Special Olympics and has lost our respect no matter how hard he protests.
The supporting cast doesn't fare much better. Brian Cox has never found playing smarmy a challenge (see L.I.E.), but here his talents are wasted as the despicable uncle who invents the scheme. Katherine Heigl looks lost and confused trying to play the sweet coordinator of the games who begins to have feelings for one of her charges. The real-life Special Olympians who are in the movie for color do a bang-up job, but the rest of the cast pretending to be affected should find new agents post haste. I'd hate to think I was cast in a role that took work away from someone who was the real deal.
Funny thing is, it's never the Special Olympians who act goofy or dumb—that would be what the plot demands of the "regular" people. The Ringer promises to be gleefully unapologetic and un-PC, but it devolves into a clumsy attempt at a "people are people" message delivered with far too much sugar. The movie seems castrated by its effort to make a gross-out comedy into a positive movie. The writing is predictable and far too soft when it should come out swinging.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Other than any problems with the project, the DVD of The Ringer is not challenged in any technical way. We get a nice artifact-free anamorphic widescreen transfer with excellent color saturation. The surround mix does what it needs to, and offers more punch than the plot. Extras include a group commentary with cast and crew, which is a fun listen even if it echoes the sentiments of the movie a little too much. We get a treasure trove of deleted scenes, many of which are seen in the trailer and not the movie proper. Some of them are more gutsy than the sanitized mess that hit the multiplex screen. If you like the movie, the DVD is well worth a purchase. Rental viewers shouldn't miss the extras.
The Ringer needs more of what the presence of Johnny Knoxville promises: politically incorrect chaos. It's a dastardly idea to rig the Special Olympics, so why not let the movie go to a logically dark place instead of this touchy-feely "up with people" ending? The smartest characters in the film are the participants in the Special Olympics. They prove that not all handicaps are created equal. They manage to hobble the rest of the cast, and rightfully run away with the film. And why? Because they are allowed to act real. In the end the movie doesn't need to convince me they are fully realized people; instead it needed to convince me that anyone around them was truly human and not embarrassed to be there.
By playing it safe, The Ringer handicaps itself beyond hope. Guilty of being a cowardly all too correct comedy.
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• 16 Deleted Scenes
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