Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story


Vince Vaughn as Peter La Fleur
Christine Taylor as Kate Veatch
Ben Stiller as White Goodman
Rip Torn as Patches O’Houlihan
Justin Long as Justin
Stephen Root as Gordon
Joel David Moore as Owen
Chris Williams as Dwight
Alan Tudyk as Steve the Pirate
Missi Pyle as Fran
Jamal E. Duff as Me’Shell Jones
Gary Cole as Cotton McKnight
Jason Bateman as Pepper Brooks
Hank Azaria as Young Patches O’Houlihan
Al Kaplon as Tournament Referee

Five “D’s” add up to an “A” for this film

Dodge, Dip, Duck, Dive and…uh, Dodge. These are the five basic fundamental of the sport that (according to the film) started in the opium dens of ancient China, but instead of severed human heads the modern version of this game uses rubber balls, is known the world over, and has finally been brought to the big screen by 20th Century Fox and Red Hour Films in the movie: Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.

As the title points out, there is not much new or original in the way of the plot. It’s the story of a bunch of outcast/ misfit/ “underdogs”, lead by Vince Vaughn who have thirty days to make the back payment on their gym, or the rival gym owned by villain/ perfect/ “better than you”, Ben Stiller, will take it over. Their solution? Win the ADAA (American Dodgeball Association of America) Championship and claim the 50K cash prize (coincidently, just enough to cover the debt on the gym).

What is original, and exceptionally funny is the execution of this tried and true formula by first time writer/director Rawson Marshall Thuber, who has managed to create wholly familiar, yet original and unique characters (no doubt influenced by Ben Stiller’s involvement as producer), and combine them with funny dialog and greatly timed slap-stick humor (aided by what must have been a very sadistic sound engineer) to make up one entertaining comedy.

The teams that make up this “David vs. Goliath” rivalry are comprised of some of the best new, and proven talent that that Hollywood has to offer. Vince Vaughn plays Peter La Fleur – owner and operator of Average Joe’s Gym, and local hang-out for Justin (Justin Long) probably best know as the nerd from Galaxy Quest, who suffers for his comedy and turns in one of funniest and most painful performances. Steve the pirate, played Alan Tudyk, is a role that you just have to see. It’s hard to describe on paper, it’s weird, but in this movie it does work. Steven Root, plays the loveable looser Gordan (every one of these films has to have one), but in my opinion Root just is never recognized enough for his talent. He can play a buffoon or a smart ass and make you believe that he’s both. He’s utilized well, especially in the training montage, and I wish there were more of him in this film. Owen (Joel Moore) and Dwight (Chris Williams) also turn in good performances, though because of the sheer number of characters their screen time is sadly limited.

The rival team – Globo Gym’s Purple Cobras (We will, we will, rock you – sssssithhhh) headed up by White Goodman (Stiller), is equally comprised of colorful characters. Missi Pyle, also from Galaxy Quest has limited screen time and fewer lines, yet still manages to give a memorable performance as Fran – Ramanovian National treasure and 5 time title-holder of the deadliest woman in dodge ball. New comer Jamal Duff (no relation to Hilary) is very imposing and funny as Goodman’s personal aid, Me’Shell. Rusty Joiner, Kevin Porter, and Brandon Moale (Blade, Lazer and Blazer) are not used very much, except during the actual game play. Their screen time was no doubt cut for pacing, but Rusty gives a nod to the film Top Gun and Val Kilmer, that gave me a chuckle.

Other late additions to the “Average Joe” team are the very lovely Christine Taylor who plays Kate Veatch, a lawyer hired by La Fleur’s bank to go over his books, and ends up joining the team, and Rip Torn who plays veteran ADAA champion, Patches (If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball) O’Houlihan.

I love Christine Taylor (yes I’m partial to blondes) but she’s another performer who does not get enough credit for her acting. She’s got great timing and it takes talent to hold a scene with Ben (scene stealer) Stiller, especially in this movie. Thurber has crafted a running joke in the film about her being a lesbian. I won’t tell you how it pays off except to say that it is (like the film) familiar yet original and unique, and definitely written by a guy who’s been in front of a computer for long periods of time.

What can be said about Rip Torn that hasn’t been said already? The guy’s great, perfectly cast, and Hank Azaria, who plays the young Patches turns in an equally great performance during a 50’s training film sequence!

The supporting cast of Gary Cole and Jason Batemen as Cotton McKnight and Pepper Brooks (sports caster and color commentator – respectively) are a riot, especially Batemen.

As I said before, it’s a very formula film, but the laughs are quick and often, and they range from slapstick to character based, blending very well. There are a lot of great cameos in this picture. I won’t mention who they are because part of the fun is seeing exactly who the coach for the German team is, or who’s a judge, or who’s going to show up at the last minute for words of inspiration. If you really need to find out I’m sure you’ll just “IMDb” the movie.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Is there anything bad about this film, or is it all just one big “kiss ass review for Fox marketing?” No, I do have one minor problem. The ending game, while appropriate and funny might have been better earned if we knew more about the technique that La Fleur (Vaughn) uses. I can’t tell you what it is, it would ruin the end, but you do see moments of him trying it in the montage, and in this instance I wish that the film makers would have forgotten about the running time and allowed the audience to see this part of (what I’m guessing was) the relationship between Patches and La Fleur, to understand why the character chooses to implement that particular technique.

But aside from that minor criticism, when you add it all up and you get a very entertaining movie that’s well worth the price of admission.