4 stars


12th September 2004

"I find it's best not to have a goal - aim low, and that way you're never disappointed." It happens to be gym owner Peter LaFleur's life philosophy, but it's also a maxim that serves Dodgeball fairly well - after all, a film that's essentially about throwing balls at people could hardly fail to deliver what it promises. Aiming low is exactly what Dodgeball does best - in fact, it aims for around crotch height, targeting the easiest gut laugh each and every time.

Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) is the owner of Average Joe's Gym, a rundown yet homely building with a small but loyal clientele of lovable losers. Joe's is the exact antithesis of Globo Gym across the road, a huge sprawling complex full of buffed athletes and state-of-the-art machinery (company motto: "We're better than you... and we know it!"). When Globo Gym owner White Goodman (Ben Stiller) jumps on LaFleur's lack of managerial know-how and attempts to buy out Average Joe's, the team is left with 30 days to raise the required $50,000 to keep their gym open and to stop the coiffured lunatic from razing their home from home to the ground. Naturally, a Las Vegas Dodgeball tournament and its prize fund provide the only answer to the rag-tag team's troubles. Undoubtedly a rubbish plot, the only difference being that Dodgeball knows it and doesn't take itself seriously for even one second.

If you've seen the trailers and were worried that Dodgeball would be a one-joke affair (namely people getting hit in the face with various objects), then you can rest assured - while the physical comedy provides much of the aforementioned gut laughs, it's much more than the equivalent of George C. Scott's 'Man Getting Hit By Football'. Much like the dodgeballs themselves, the gags are hit and miss but you're under a constant onslaught at all times - let your guard down and you might just miss some real gems, like the trophy presentation at the grammar jamboree, or the opening credits to ESPN 8's coverage of the tournament ("If it's vaguely like a sport, we'll cover it!"). Late night cable TV viewers will no doubt get a kick out of that one.

However, the real laughs all come from Stiller's scenery-chewing performance as Goodman, the narcissistic sports pimp from hell, with facial hair to match - sporting an excellent line in idiotic one-liners ("We should mate!") and an equally hilarious dress sense, Stiller is in full-on lunatic mode and has created a character that gives Cobra Kai's Sensai John Kreese a run for his money in the insane gym owner stakes. Vaughn on the other hand displays slightly more energy than he did in Starsky & Hutch, but you still get the feeling that deep down inside his ever-more pudgy exterior there's another Trent trying to escape. Stiller's wife Christine Taylor as the bank manager turned team member is a fine example of nepotism working in Hollywood today, but thankfully the supporting cast are varied enough to provide some respite from the legally required love story angle.

It's the little details that make Dodgeball so enjoyable, throwaway gags peppered throughout the script that go to show that there's definitely some smart writing behind all the gym-based carnage - the local club called The Dirty Sanchez, the foul-mouthed dodgeball coach played to a tee by a bedraggled Rip Torn ("You're about as useful as a cock-flavoured lollipop") and the constant stream of Z-list cameos. Scene in danger of becoming too serious? Throw in a Shatner cameo! Average Joe's team not diverse enough? Add a pirate! Gags using the word 'balls' getting increasingly annoying? Thank you Chuck Norris! It's like someone's tapped into my head, sucked all of the pointless and stupid bullshit that makes me laugh and siphoned it into this movie. All it needed was some ninjas and cowboys, and I would have died laughing.

Fairly obviously, Dodgeball is predictable, very silly and lives or dies on whether you find people getting smashed relentlessly in the face funny or not. Much more than the sum of its parts, Dodgeball is consistently funny, often absurd and never anything less than entertaining. Besides, any movie starring David Hasselhoff as a vitriolic German Dodgeball coach gets two thumbs up on my behalf.

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