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The Ringer

The Ringer
Johnny Knoxville, Brian Cox, Leonard Flowers and Katherine Heigl

Rated: PG-13 
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: December 23, 2005 Released by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

This Farrelly Brothers-produced comedy has the endorsement of the Special Olympics, and starts out somewhat ribald but ends up rather uplifting.

The Ringer isn't as bad as one may fear, even as many studios declined taking on a picture about an office guy played by Johnny Knoxville (late of The Dukes of Hazzard) becoming a Special Olympics athlete.

Knoxville's Steve Barker will transform into "Jeffy Dahmor" after hiring a custodian, Stavi, he was ordered to fire after inquiring about a promotion. Stavi's lawncare services prove disastrous with no medical coverage, while Steve's Uncle Gary, a smarmy Brian Cox of Red Eye, has to face up to his own debts to mobsters.

Apparently, Steve has cross-country ability, but not quite enough to dethrone reigning Special Olympics champ Jimmy (real special athlete Leonard Flowers) who's called "a mentally-retarded Deion Sanders" with his limo and entourage.

Directed with little inspiration by Barry W. Blaustein (Beyond the Mat), The Ringer tries to ingratiate itself from the relationship Steve has with the developmental disabled athletes he shares a room with in a dormitory. They prove to be a bright bunch, not just from spotting abrupt changes in speech cadence, and turn out to teach Jeffy a lesson even if it means supporting the chance to dethrone a supremely confident Jimmy.

During training, a sweet, comely volunteer Lynn (Katherine Heigl of Bride of Chucky) complicates things for Steve/Jeffy. She'll even get to him more after telling about a mentally-challenged brother. Yet, The Ringer doesn't sting in the way it could have from the Farrellys who have accorded substantial treatment to the disabled in many of their films. But, not having directed here, the sitcom nature is competent, but plodding and uneven from its crudely concocted fish-out-of-water scenario.

Knoxville gamely handles the part with the kind of pratfalling expected from someone who pulled off Jackass with zest. Yet, he doesn't bring much flair to a guy whose honorable intentions are for a widowed dad with five kids. Cox actually is the only one who makes his unlikeable character a creditable figure.

The final portion of The Ringer will give more than a few a reason to smile, even after the amount of disrespect expressed throughout. Still, it doesn't handle its "special" characters in a cruel way to its advantage, though one's sensitivities to derision is important for more impressionable folks who may be thought of to see this as entertainment.

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