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An unabashedly stupid comedy, DodgeBall does for its sport what Kingpin did for bowling.

Pump You Up

Stiller's big-haired sleazeball stuck sometime in the 1980s isn't as funny as his innocent good guy
Stiller’s big-haired sleazeball stuck sometime in the 1980s isn’t as funny as his innocent good guy

Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn, Swingers) is a loser. And he’s proud of it. For him, being a loser is a no-pressure lifestyle. At the center of his lowly life is Average Joe’s, a dive of a gym that caters to the pathetically sub-average.

Directly across the street, the latest and greatest of gyms, Globo Gym, has opened with a splash. It’s one in a chain of high-tech health clubs that caters to the sexy. White Goodman (Ben Stiller, Meet the Parents) is the gym’s founder and he’s out for global domination of the fitness market.

Once upon a time, White was so fat he’d make Fat Bastard look like a pencil-neck geek. Now he’s a svelte, big-haired sleazeball stuck sometime in the 1980s with out-of-date fashions and a mental capacity that stopped somewhere short of puberty.

As part of White’s quest to expand his gym’s reach, he’s hired a beautiful tax lawyer, Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor, Zoolander), to investigate the bookkeeping at Average Joe’s. Sure enough, in Peter’s lackadaisical hands, the gym’s books are a mess, a tangled paper trail cluttering up a closet. In the end, it turns out Peter owes $50,000; he either pays up or faces foreclosure.

With a clientele of a dirty half-dozen dorks, Peter doesn’t have a prayer of finding that kind of money. And that’s just fine with the loser. After all, it’d be an opportunity to explore new possibilities in life.

Heavyweights and Honey Babies

But Peter’s customers are desperately loyal and they’d have absolutely no place to go without Average Joe’s.

To the group’s relief, something of a shred of a possibility of remote hope comes in the guise of an advertisement in Obscure Sports Quarterly, a magazine read avidly by Gordon (Stephen Root, The Ladykillers), a hen-pecked husband with two young children.

Having found their only hope, Peter’s rag-tag group of pinheads, including a guy who thinks he’s a pirate and a teenage boy who dreams of being a cheerleader, set out to win a qualifying game of dodgeball. If they can win that, they’ll earn a chance to compete in the world dodgeball championship in Las Vegas. The purse: $50,000.

Their first opponent is a tough troupe of players, but to say more would only spoil the hilarious surprise. And there are plenty of those in this stupid, but oh-so-clever comedy.

With his feature film debut, writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber proves that it takes a certain amount of genius to write a comedy that on its surface is nothing more than a guys-night-out farce. It’s the fertile terrain of idiocy that’s been mined by the likes of Jerry Lewis and the Farrelly brothers.

There’s some real talent that’s been pulled into Thurber’s freshman project. Vaughn in particular is simply perfect as the laid back loser-by-choice. Peter’s actually a smart guy who’s decided to slum it for a while; he could do more, but he doesn’t want to. At the other end of the spectrum, Stiller is a fine foil with his patented delivery of convoluted dialogue. While he’s good here, Stiller is still more fun when he’s the innocent good guy in movies like There’s Something About Mary.

Wrenches and Balls

Turning in an over-the-top performance is Rip Torn (Men In Black) as Patches O’Houlihan, a dodgeball megastar back in the 1930s. Rocky Balboa had his Mickey; the Average Joe’s have Patches. A wheelchair-bound, disheveled man whose star has dimmed, he’s still a hardcore savage when it comes to the greatest game on Earth: dodgeball.

With his no-nonsense approach to dodgeball, Patches whips the team into shape and they head off to Las Vegas for the fight of their lives. Not to be outdone, it’s only natural in this nonsensical world that White Goodman is himself nothing short of a dodgeball superstar and his team, the Purple Cobras, are also competing in Vegas.

And so the stage is set for the biggest display of balls any of these men have ever witnessed.

DodgeBall is a genuinely funny movie that serves up lots of physical comedy. As painful as it is watch people get plunked in the head and other, more sensitive, regions of the anatomy by high-velocity dodgeballs and, yes, wrenches, it’s also painfully funny. And to Thurber’s credit, there are some knee-slapping moments of outright hilarity in part supplied by some outstanding cameo appearances.

But the movie also has heart. For every blow to the crotch, there’s a chin-up, Bucko, mentality of pure goodwill. Far from Richard Attenborough’s message movie territory, DodgeBall still manages to score points for offering an underlying theme that it’s best to find out who you are and be yourself.

DodgeBall gives a high-five to the geeks of the world and a stinging bitch slap against the chiseled cheeks of dumb jocks around the globe.