Projections - Movie Reviews
A True Underdog Story
Starring Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor, Ben Stiller,
Rip Torn, Justin Long, Stephen Root

The very busy Ben Stiller is the star and a producer of Dodgeball, a vapid comedy with the subtitle A True Underdog Story. It coincides with the apparent re-emergence of the sport in the U.S. The threadbare, low-rent comedy is patterned after The Bad News Bears and Revenge of the Nerds with a silly, crude streak that is supposed to be fun. But, Stiller comes off like a macho model so obnoxious that makes his work in Starsky & Hutch, as well as the zany Zoolander better examples of actorly posturing.

After Envy, it would seem possible that Stiller could find another cinematic nadir, than he has. But now he is opposite Vince Vaughn, instead of Jack Black. Maybe Dodgeball lives down to its underdog stature because of first-time director Rawson Marshall Thurber who brings a strange glee to the story which he wrote.

The film opens like an infomercial for Globo Gym, a sleek, state-of-the-art exercise palace run by the edgy, self-centered, self-made White Goodman (Stiller). His glass, metal, and chrome place of business projects into his faux sexy fashionsta personality and is soon transposed by Vaughn’s failing exercise emporium, the grungy Average Joe’s.

The plot is summarized by White who often speaks in an extended condescending manner, a running gag which would drive English teachers nuts. Vaughn’s unambitious, lazy Peter LaFleur gets a wake-up call as Goodman plans to take over Average Joe’s which is $50,000 in the red. And Stiller’s off-screen wife Christine Taylor, also in Zoolander, is the bank’s attorney hired by White, Kate, who’ll be a player for Peter vying for the Dodgeball world championships held in Las Vegas. It’s not difficult to figure out the odds of which two teams will vie for the title.

The film gets a lot of laughs from the game in which one of the actors remembers the version he played that was denoted “murder ball.” Thurber lets most of his cast take hits in the face or groin, of which White is very happy to pump-up for Kate, as the photogenic Taylor seems to be doing a favor for her husband. But there is nothing to like about Stiller’s odd, self-deprecating character who has to shock himself away from the same temptations that lead to an extremely embarrassing moment, akin to American Pie.

Of course, you have to have the announcers, and Gary Cole provides play-by-play for the Ocho, or ESPN 8, and Jason Bateman (Starsky & Hutch) is the loppy, punk’d gear to a training scene where a player practices by weaving not so successfully in traffic. There may be some good for those who see Stiller’s last scene in the kind of makeup that can curve an appetite for obesity. Yet, this competitive sport, which is depicted in a setting like arena football, is the kind of physical, dumb comedy which highlights the “skid mark on the underpants of society.”


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