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The Joes and Cobras finally get their chance to duke it out on the big screen, and it doesn't happen in a movie endorsed by Hasbro.
Rather, it happens on a dodgeball court, in a little inside joke that it took me way too long to get. It's the final battle in the comedy DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY, pitting the out-of-shape schmucks from Average Joe's Gym against the mountains of muscle that comprise the team from Globo's Gym. If you're worried that I just spoiled the finale of the movie for you, don't. This whol emovie is terribly predictable from start to finish.
But I can't fault it for that -- after all, that's the idea. DODGEBALL is a spoof of every underdog sports movie that's come along since THE BAD NEWS BEARS first stepped up to the plate, and it delivers in that department. It also features a non-stop barrage of slapstick humor and gross-out gags, but you probably aren't surprised at all by that revelation. What matters is that DODGEBALL is extremely funny, although you're going to have to remove any large objects you may have lodged in your rectal area in order to enjoy it.
DODGEBALL stars Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, two guys who have been featured in some of the better comedies to come out in the past couple of years. Vaughn plays Peter La Fleur, the owner of the aforementioned Average Joe's Gym; a burnt-out old warehouse that apparently has only five members, none of whom appear to match the fitness archetype. Across the street from his financially collapsed enterprise is Globo's Gym, run by Ben Stiller's White Goodman, a cartoonish villain if there ever were one. Globo's is a virtual metropolis of freeweights and treadmills, the product of White's insecurity over his short stature and days as a former porker. Through a bank attorney named Kate Veach (played by Stiller's real-life wife Christine Taylor, channeling her best Rachel Green here) Joe's is doomed to foreclosure, and Globo's is ready to acquire its assets once it fails to come up with the 50 grand it needs to cover its mortgage. Simple enough setup, because plot is about the least important thing that this movie needs to begin with.
Of course, one of the shlubs at Joe's finds their out -- a dodgeball tournament with a convenient first prize of 50 grand. Granted, that's before taxes, which pretty much means that winning it won't actually get the Joe's gang anywhere considering they're already flat broke, but I don't think financial reality was an intended plot point here. So after watching an educational video on the sport from 1938, they assemble a rag-tag dodgeball squad and go to their local qualifier. Sure, they lose badly (to a group of girl scouts, naturally), but a loophole gets them in the tourney. Fortunately, they are able to pick up a coach in the process: octagenarian Patches O'Houlihan, a dodgeball legend (and the star of the training video from decades ago) played to the point of hysterics by Rip Torn.
But White Goodman has learned of the Joe's gang's plans, and forms his own dodgeball team. White surrounds himself with four guys (and one gal) who each triple his mass, and prepare to do battle at the national championships in Las Vegas. Along the way, Peter's team has their share of obstacles, including a wardrobe malfunction, a couple of player losses, and some temptation from the darkside, but they work their way through the ESPN-8 ("The Ocho!") tournament, with commentary by Gary Cole and Jason Bateman, both in hilarious form. Of course, they have to plow through all of the potentially-offensive stereotyped teams (Some more inspired than the ones found in BASEKETBALL, some less) to get to Globo Gym's Purple Cobras in the finals. But will they win the big one? I really hope you don't need to ask.
Because, yeah, you'll anticipate that sort of stuff. But this film wouldn't work if it weren't so predictable. As a genre spoof, it works quite well. And as a sight-gag comedy, it fires on all cylinders too. You might get a little bored with seeing people getting hit in the face with a red rubber ball over and over, but that's also part of its charm. The dramatic way the dodgeball hits are filmed are part of what makes it work so well. But about 99% of the humor in the movie comes from the "man, that's gotta hurt!" physical comedy aspect of it, and the filmmakers do everything they can to keep it interesting.
The film is also chock full of cameos, mostly used for gratuitious purposes, but the film doesn't really hide that fact. Look out for folks as diverse as William Shatner, David Hasselhoff, Hank Azaria, Chuck Norris, Lance Armstrong, and the best of the best, Curtis "Booger" Armstrong, character actor extraordinnaire.
There are a couple of loose ends (or lazy ends, perhaps) in the script that impede its progress a bit, but they didn't exactly get very far in the way of messing things up. There's a player on the Joe's that thinks he's a pirate, which works great for some comedic effect, but it never really goes anywhere. As a fan of pirates myself, I could think of a whole lot more he could have done than say "garrr" a lot. Same goes for the ugly-people-romance angle between members of opposite teams. There's also the payoff to a running sexual preference joke in the final moments which redeems the whole romance subplot, then bombs immediately afterward. Afterward, I realized that the "bomb" portion of it was tied in to a joke from the opening moments of the film, but they were so loosely tied together that it just doesn't work. The big finale itself, involving all of the who-wins-money-and-who-sold-out-and-who-gets-to-be-whose-boss hoopla, is so contrived that it almost negates itself, but that's obviously in response to one of the many cliches that tend to work their way into the subject of the satire.
But for the most part, DODGEBALL works. The writing is clever, the gags are lowbrow at its finest, and the performances help it along. Vaughn's deadpan sarcasm and Stiller's over-the-top nutcase play well off of one another, and the supporting cast, particularly Stephen Root, help flesh out the movie.
And finally, there's that Joes vs. Cobras reference I mentioned earlier. In case you're one of the three clueless people to what that reference is all about, then I refer you to one of these past articles to figure it out. That's certainly a testament to the fact that my generation is out there in Hollywood, throwing their thinly-veiled pop culture references as nods for dorks like me to get. Looks like our boy Chad has a future after all.
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