Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) – A Review

Vince Vaughn Dodgeball movie cast comedy 2004
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

The timeless struggle of the meek, weaker underdogs battling the esteemed powerful. This tale was probably one of the first stories told thousands of years ago on some cave wall illustrating the fight between a hunter and some ancient ox or something.

We shine our flashlight in some darkened cave and see the first stick drawing showing the hunter was clearly up against one colossal obstacle and by the looks of it he was going to be dead meat against this dangerous looking beast.

Just to the right in the second etching the hunter somehow gained the upper hand and is actually putting up a decent fight. In the final panel of this fossilized cartoon the hunter is standing over the now dead animal with his arms raised high in triumph.

Maybe that hunter won the fight by hurling a rock at this animals head, much the same way his ancestors would win against their adversaries in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.

Ben Stiller Vince Vaughn Dodgeball comedy movie
Stiller and Vaughn facing off

Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) is the lazy, broke owner of Average Joe’s gym. Being the carefree, irresponsible guy Peter is he’s faced with coming up with $50,000 in thirty days to save Average Joe’s or it will be bought up by arrogant fitness guru White Goodman (Ben Stiller) who owns the successful Globo-Gym right across the street.

White is anxious to level Joe’s and turn it into a parking lot for his pumped up gym members. Attorney Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor) is hired by White to work on the details of the closing of Average Joe’s, but finds herself empathizing with Peter and the goofball members of his gym and taking a disliking to the corporate Globo-Gym and the shallow White.

All seems lost until the Average Joe’s enter a dodgeball tournament in an attempt to win the grand prize of $50,000. With his enthusiastic pals, the help of Kate and the coaching of renowned dodgeball champion Patches O’Houlihan (Rip Torn) Peter looks to have a shot at saving Joe’s. However, White wants to insure the death of Joe’s and enters into the same dodgeball tournament with his own dangerous players to squash these underdogs.

How cool would it be if they discovered some ancient cave paintings of this story!

Ben Stiller Dodgeball
Stiller as the evil White Goodman

Dodgeball is a completely silly movie. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber lays its framework out exactly like countless underdog sports movies that have come before and all the while pokes fun at the ridiculousness of it all.  Goofy characters populate it and the movie never takes any of it the least bit seriously.

The guys setting out on their goal, the training montage, the big tournament, the team giving their all, the crowd getting behind them, all that stuff. And as a result I think it’s a surprisingly very funny movie.

Stiller hadn’t been this funny in years. At the time he had been playing a laundry list of straighter characters in romantic comedies or high-concept comedies. That young funny, creative guy who I was a huge fan of with his hilarious work on The Ben Stiller Show seemed to disappear and any comedic edge he was bringing to his films began to get duller and duller.

Not here. Maybe it was because he was playing a bad guy and didn’t have to worry about the audience not liking him, but he’s very funny, has some great lines and is willing to make himself look like a jerk.

The supporting cast of Average Joes are all goofballs who are both likable and strange. Justin Long, Chris Williams, Joel David Moore, Stephen Root and the extremely odd character of Steve the Pirate played by Alan Tudyk. I have no idea how they came up with the idea for this guy! Rip Torn is vulgar and disgusting as the old cranky coach. I especially like Hank Azaria’s small role as the young O’Houlihan in a 1950s educational-style film about the history of dodgeball. It’s a lot of fun.

Vince Vaughn Christine Taylor Dodgeball
Taylor sacrificing herself for Vaughn

Taylor is both attractive and funny, a nice balance for the leading lady in comedy. As for our leading man Vaughn – he’s ok. Although Vaughn is meant to be the lead in this he is constantly outshined by the rest of his cast.

He’s not horrible or anything like that, but he plays the typical easygoing, relaxed character he’s been playing for a long time. He gives his wiseass, sarcastic remarks with a deadpan face and that’s about it. Perhaps the whole film wouldn’t have worked as well if he had tried to compete with his co-stars and he gave a more energetic performance, but seriously at times I wonder if he was half asleep during some scenes.

No doubt a lot of belly laughs are mined from players getting hit in the kisser. There’s just something about that sound those rubber balls make when they hit someone in the face that makes it all the more funnier to me. They have that echoey, rubbery, hollowness to it that ignites a giggle in me.

There are plenty of surprise cameos that I wholly appreciate are not at all overdone. That’s one thing that annoys me about movies that give you a cameo by some recognizable face. Usually it seems the filmmakers are so excited to have this person showing up in their movie they’ll fall into the trap of milking their appearance and just dragging it out until the novelty of it wears thin and they’ve stuck around way too long. Dodgeball does the cameo gag just right – a quick surprise appearance, get the laugh and get back to the movie.

Gary Cole in Dodgeball ESPN 8 The Ocho
The hilarious Gary Cole

Once the tournament begins some great laughs come from Gary Cole and Jason Bateman as commentators broadcasting the games on ESPN 8…. ‘The Ocho’! Cole is hysterical and kills me everytime with his straight-faced color commentary. Everytime I hear him say “right here on The Ocho” I keep wishing it was a real channel!

The tournament is peppered with bizarre teams ranging from the bearded lumberjacks to a diaper-wearing Japanese team called the Kamikazes. I especially love some of the sincerity and seriousness of the referee. I’m not sure if many audience members find him giving Stiller a court misconduct warning while waving some kind of tassel in his face as funny as I do though.

Dodgeball might not be for everyone, but I find it one of the few comedies that have come out of ‘The Frat Pack’ group of movies that I genuinely find very funny. Another thing that I think sets it apart from most comedies that we’ve seen in the last ten years or so is that it doesn’t rely on gross out gags or toilet humor to get its laughs. It’s pretty inoffensive stuff.

Sure there’s Long getting pounded in the face with a wrench and Root being hit by cars, but that’s more cartoony than real. Dodgeball almost plays like a throwback comedy from twenty, thirty years ago before ‘offensive’ and ‘vulgarity’ became equated with humor. It’s kind of funny me saying that about a movie where Torn utters the phrase, “You’re about as useful as a poopy flavored lollypop”. But at least here you won’t see any one racing to the bathroom with a case of diarrhea.

Dodgeball A True Underdog Story movie 2004 cast Average Joes
The Average Joes

There’s been rumors that Dodgeball 2 might be in the planning stages. Somehow mortal enemies La Fleur and White have to team-up on the dodgeball stage to defeat a shared enemy or something.

I was somewhat surprised to read that. It’s certainly not Vaughn or Stiller’s biggest hit and now ten years on I would have thought the demand for anyone wanting to continue the dodgeball saga would have died. But I guess with their recent films not doing the box office they were once both known for the idea of reteaming for more throwing rubber balls sounds like it could be a good idea.

If it happens or not I don’t think it much matters. Dodgeball is a perfect standalone goofy little film and is still just as funny as when I first saw it ten years ago.


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