Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Rip Torn, Christine Taylor, Justin Long, Joel Moore, Stephen Root, Alan Tudyk
Your first reaction to Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is probably to think it's funny, even hilarious. Desperate for a laugh these days, you dismiss hints of something unsavory lurking beneath the surface. Only later might you remember the homophobia, vulgarity and mean-spiritedness that dot Dodgeball like pockmarks.
If you're one of the rare people who sticks around to see the scene that follows the end credits, you'll find out Dodgeball isn't funny at all. It's obscene. And you have just become the butt of one very unfunny joke.
Peter LeFleur (Vince Vaughn, Starsky & Hutch) is a nice, boring guy who owns a rundown gym, Average Joe's, where lovable goofballs congregate. There's cheerleader wannabe Justin Long, shy nerd Joel Moore, unloved husband Stephen Root (all three seen in Raising Genius), and Alan Tudyk (Hearts in Atlantis), who thinks he's a pirate. Because nobody pays their fees, Average Joe's is headed to foreclosure.
Across the street at Globo Gym, everything is perfect. Owner White Goodman (Ben Stiller, Zoolander), with his Jane Fonda hair and buff body, personifies the Globo motto, "We're better than you and we know it". Goodman is a closet binger who so despises an ounce of fat that he attaches electrodes to his nipples to shock himself to keep from eating a donut. (Yep, a PG-13 rating, folks.) Kate (Christine Taylor, Stiller's lovely real-life wife) is the cute attorney handling the foreclosure.
To get the $50,000 they need to save the gym, the average guys decide to try to win the International Dodgeball championships in Vegas. And into the gym on his wheelchair speeds Patches O'Houlihan (Rip Torn, Welcome to Mooseport), the beloved hero of a vintage dodgeball training film.
"If you can dodge a wrench," he shouts, throwing tools at them, "you can dodge a ball!" I don't know why guys getting smashed over and over again with wrenches or big red balls is funny, but it is. (Congratulate first-time writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber at least on his comedic timing.) And despite those occasional whiffs of something rotten, I was laughing along with everybody else.
Complication after complication as "The Little Team That Could" heads toward the finals. More hilarity as everybody keeps getting ball-punched in the groin, and the sportscasters -- Gary Cole (I Spy) and Justin Bateman (Starsky & Hutch) -- escalate the lunacy through their absurd commentary. William Shatner shows up as emcee. Chuck Norris is a judge. Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and five-time winner of the Tour de France, is memorable in a short scene in which he puts wimpy Peter to shame. Of course, the underdogs win and pummel Globo's Dream Team.
Weeks later, everybody is dancing happily in Average Joe's infomercial. Goodman watches the scene from his bed, his loose bathrobe showing how horridly fat he has become.
At this point, leave the theater.
After the long end-credits, Ben Stiller reappears in his fat-man getup. He complains that "comedies can't have any complexities." Mimicking a female porno actress, he pushes out his breasts and snarls, "Check these boo-tees out!" Then he rubs and swirls the humungous mammaries around and sings (from the Kellis hit "Milkshake"), "My milkshake brings all the boys to my yard."
The image is so shocking, you can't believe you're seeing it. (Hey, didn't I just feel warm fuzzies?) Then it dawns on you: Hiding behind a latex grotesquerie of a woman, Stiller is shoving his dingleberry in your face. He's informing you -- you pathetic, average-Joe suckers in the audience -- that you have just paid your hard-earned money to be manipulated by 90 minutes worth of false feel-good messages. In an interview with Fred Topel on the Action-Adventure Movies Internet site, Stiller crows that he put the gag (gag me, all right) after the credits, "because nobody stays for the end of the credits."
In other words, it's his private joke on you.
Only Stiller can say why he did this. Perhaps the reason is as simple as the rationale President Clinton gave on 60 Minutes to explain why he had an affair in the White House. He did it, he said, "just because I could."
-- reviewed by Marci Miller