Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story Movie Review

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Can somebody please stop Ben Stiller?

Since becoming a box-office draw with "There's Something About Mary," the guy has been a horrendous ham, devouring scenery with an eye-bugging, eyebrow-stitching schtick so stale and predictable that his last dozen movies have all included the same gag: slow-motion scenes of Stiller madly mugging while dancing, or running, or playing the titular game of schoolyard pain and humiliation in "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story."

The only variation in his on-screen persona is that sometimes he's an irritatingly neurotic, hapless chump ("Along Came Polly," "Envy," "Meet the Parents") and other times he's an irritatingly arrogant, mock-sexy-pouting, self-obsessed moron ("Starsky & Hutch," "Zoolander").

The latter variation gets a testosterone-overload workout in "Dodgeball," as cartoon-villain Stiller twists his feather-haired biker mustache playing the pompous, pumped-up, narcissistic owner of a slick, corporate, uber-fitness franchise. He's a jerk bent on destroying his meager across-the-street competition, the run-down and nearly bankrupt Average Joe's Gym, operated by slovenly schlub Vince Vaughn.

But determined to save their unjudgmental hangout from foreclosure are Average Joe's nerdy movie-stereotype regulars -- and for no discernable or funny reason, one guy who thinks he's a pirate. They band together to compete against Stiller's buff-bodied team in a $50,000 dodgeball tournament.

Nothing but an asinine gimmick plugged into the fill-in-the-blank spaces of an underdog sports-comedy template, "Dodgeball" has very brief, usually incidental flashes of satirical imagination. In an elimination round, the Average Joes almost gets their clocks cleaned by a Girl Scout troop. The dodgeball tournament is broadcast on fictitious ESPN 8 ("The Ocho! If it's almost a sport, we got it here!"). And just by the nature of his ironic, apparently half-drunk, sneak-attack delivery, Vaughn manages to fire off a handful of zingers so much funnier than the rest of the movie that they were probably ad-libbed. (Jason Bateman scores too as a play-by-play announcer prone to wild non-sequiturs.)

But writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (creator of the "Terry Tate, Office Linebacker" commercials for Reebok) spends 99 percent of the picture sleepwalking through "keep your chins up" speeches and serving his shameless cast a feast of pathetic punchlines like "You're about as useful as a poopy flavored lollypop," and "It's like watching a bunch of retards trying to hump a doorknob out there."

Amid cheap racial gags (a tournament team from Japan wears sumo-wrestler "diapers" and kamikaze headbands), highly unlikely love-interest subplots (one nerd lands a cheerleader, Vaughn makes time with a pretty bank lawyer) and Stiller's overbearing clowning, the one vicariously vengeful pleasure in "Dodgeball" is seeing the actors repeatedly take real shots to the head from big red rubber balls.

If I could have thrown a few of them myself, it almost would have been worth suffering through this garbage.

Cast & Crew

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Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story Rating

" Unbearable "

Rating: PG-13, WIDE: Friday, June 18, 2004

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