Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

  • Balls
  • Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn Playing One of Their Two Different Characters
  • Lance Armstrong


Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

"I dare you to watch every single one of my suck-ass movies from this year! I dare you! I'm looking at you JimmyO! Did you walk out of Envy! No? Jokes on you, Big Guy!"

Guys Getting Hit With Balls

At the end of this past school year, I was left with a quite a bit of spare time during the day. Seniors get out two weeks early, and with three classes of seniors, I had plenty of time to catch up all my paper grading. So what to do with the time? One morning while I was headed to the office to steal some paper clips and post-it notes, I passed the gym where everyone was playing.......dodgeball. Why not, I thought, I just turned in my resignation, so I don't have to give a shit anymore.

I almost tore a hole in my pants sliding out of the way of a dodgeball, which was probably the most damn fun I had until the sixth hour Recreational PE pickle ball tournament the next week. I forgot how much damn fun that game is, except that we used those pussy soft air-foam balls instead of the big rubber ones. But still, there's nothing like that initial volley when everybody runs to the middle to get a ball, or the Panzer-esque blitzkrieg that knocks out their best guy (usually a two or three letter athlete). Every gym coach has his own rules; me, I'm a big fan of Ambush, where you have fewer balls in play, but when you're out, you go behind the other team (usually you're trapped between the wall and the basketball court's endline. Head on a swivel, quicker reaction time, long-distance communication--it's more complex and challenging than the regular game.

Dodgeball has become something of a bizarre political topic, catalyzed by Robert Lipsyte's March 2002 article in the New York Times and an appearance on the Michael Medved show, in which he argues that the cult of dodgeball has somehow contributed to hazing, Columbine, Martha Stewart's decline, even the Abu Ghraib abuses. This, my friends, is why people think liberals are big pussies. I'll admit, I used to be an athlete, but c'mon--dodgeball is the least of a kid's worries. First off, the emotional humiliation of being picked last for kickball, or having your lunch money stolen, or being pushed around by some older kids, is much worse than taking fire in the Mekong delta of junior high dodgeball. There's no shame in getting plunked with a foam rubber ball that doesn't hurt. The shame is in the feelings of inadequacy exposed often just by the wearing of the gym shorts and t-shirt. In a culture dominated by sports, any bodytype not found on the WB is a curse. And with today's hyper-conditioned athletes, the image is compounded for nerds and geeks. How are you supposed to look like "The O.C." when your school cafeteria offers you nothing but soybean burgers, nachos, Dr. Pepper, Skittles, and tater tots? You can't, and that's part of the real problem--kids eating habits coupled with their X-Box addiction. Dodgeball is the least of their worries--in fact, it can only help. And besides, a really talented and creative leader can give everyone a vital role in taking out those two assholes from the football team who knocked me out yesterday when they ambushed me after Coach moved play up to the volleyball line what a bunch of bullshit we're not going to let those pricks beat us today are we both of you grab a ball and use it as a blocker as I move in behind you to get a closer shot at that son of a bitch.

Had the makers of Dodgeball created some sort of thoughtful satire on body images and the media, or something of that sort, it had a chance. That seemed to be where the movie was going in its opening, featuring Ben Stiller in one of his characters, the testosterized asshole. The gym features something like giant Orwellian telescreens, with Stiller as Big Brother, cajoling and insulting the gym proles by name. His ad campaign features the admonishment, "It's not our fault if you don't hate yourself enough to do something about it." And then Stiller pads his jock strap.

This is a promising start, but then we head next door to Vince Vaughn's gym. It's a piece of shit with guys in it who are so exceedingly out of shape you wonder why they bother. This is the problem with this whole set-up, and why Dodgeball ultimately fails: It mocks the superficiality of the gym, but it also embraces the sloppiness of the American culture. Shouldn't the satire go both ways, especially in a country where 65% of the country is statistically obese? Dodgeball doesn't follow its thoughts that far because the movie exists solely to A) Capitalize on the mini-craze of dodgeball, B) Let Ben Stiller do the same goddamn shtick he does in all his movies, and C) Try to turn Vince Vaughn into some kind of leading man. Because it has nothing else going for it, the movie resorts to stringing together a bunch of lame gags, none of which are grounded in any central theme or character. Alan Tudyk plays a guy who thinks he's a pirate and says, "Aargh!" a lot. Rip Torn plays a former dodgeball great who cusses a lot and throws stuff at the guys. The movie resorts to ripping off the traffic gag from Bowfinger. And you can always tell when a Ben Stiller movie is desperate because the token hot chick will kiss another hot chick. Ho hum. And Ben Stiller masturbates with a piece of pizza. I kinda get that, but it's so much of a stretch that the gag is just lame.

There's no Ron Burgundy character here--Ben Stiller isn't interested in or capable of creating one. He plays every scene for a single joke, no attention to any details that might develop the film. In Burgundy, most of the humor revolves around the central character; there's layers of humor to be had when you factor in the satire of American masculinity. That film gives cameos to Stiller and Vaughn, and they're really funny--for the two scenes they're in. That's all they've got without good direction, and this film has nothing to say about modern masculinity, not to mention how dodgeball might be a metaphor for all that.

The movie is funny when people get hit with balls. If that's what you want to see, the movie is great for about fifteen minutes. Lots of guys get hit with balls really hard. I laughed out loud. And then Lance Armstrong showed up, and that was really funny too. But instead of renting Dodgeball and getting drunk with your friends, let me offer you a better idea--trust me, you'll thank me later. Buy a set of dodgeballs (can't be more than twenty or thirty bucks), and take them to your local Y or church gym. Call all the guys on your softball team, one of the captains of another softball team, and tell'em it's showdown time. You'll have more fun in that initial sprint and volley of that first round of dodgeball than in the whole of this dumbass movie. And for goodness sakes, don't try to catch the ball unless you can get it with your chest and don't get clustered together when they have all the balls! But if you start thinking that insider trading, the elephant walk, spraying a cafeteria with gunfire, or abuses Iraqis is a good idea, it's time to quit, ok?

The Pitch:
Randy Johnson
1 Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
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Stiller shows the guys his "Little Focker ."