On the surface, you wouldn’t expect a comedy sports movie about Dodgeball to be a commercial success. But on opening weekend in June 2004 it comfortably beat out the opening weekend of Spielberg-Hanks’ The Terminal, grossing over $11 million more. A true underdog story.
The film centres around Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn), an incompetent gym owner with a don’t try can’t fail outlook on life. After not collecting membership fees for 13 months along with a slew of other blunders, his gym Average Joe’s is at risk of being foreclosed. That is of course if he can’t come up with $50,000 he owes in 30 days.
Across the road in the shrine to insecurity that is Globo Gym, owner, operator and founder White Goodman (Ben Stiller) awaits to demolish Average Joe’s to make way for an auxiliary parking lot. Suffering from a severe case of Napoleon complex, he surrounds himself with massive, muscly men called Laser, and Blazer, and Taser, and all kinds of azer’s.
After a car wash to build up some funds results in them actually losing money, the group of misfits that make up the members share a drink, ready to concede. Suddenly, and in the exact perfect moment, one of the members remembers an advertisement in Obscure Sports Quarterly magazine about a professional Dodgeball tournament. The prize for the winner? $50,000. Following an embarrassing loss turned win by disqualification in their qualifying match they make it to the finals in Las Vegas, picking up dodgeball legend Patches O’Houlihan in the process to be their coach.
Dodgeball is a film that really should not be as good as it is. Vaughn and Stiller both give fantastic performances throughout, in particular this was much needed for the latter after his lacklustre leading role in Starsky & Hutch. Stiller plays a parodical role of a self-loving gym addict teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown, and Vaughn is his usual charismatic self, acting as a Captain, steering the ship through a sea of silliness and slapstick.
While the humour was thick and fast and for the most part hit their mark, the jokes coming from Rip Torn’s character Patches were overly crass and was the only blemish on an otherwise spotless film. Thankfully he is killed off in an incredibly ironic way which goes some way to making up for his actions prior.
Contrastingly the funniest character during the film was a barely recognisable Jason Bateman as Pepper Brooks, sitting next to Gary Cole as two dodgeball commentators. Their chemistry and polar opposite personalities lead to some of the most hilarious exchanges with Bateman personally delivering many highly quotable lines.
This movie looks like it was almost as funny to shoot as it was to watch with numerous surprising cameos and a relentless humour that will bring you back again and again. There may not be any deep underlying meaning or character depth, but then again, does a film about throwing rubber balls need all that? It’s a bold strategy, one that I think pays off.