The Ringer

3 stars


3rd April 2006

It's Saturday night, you've got an hour or so to kill before you go out; what else are you going to do but crack open a few beers and watch the Disabled Commonwealth Games? I assumed that watching disabled competitors would humble my able ass - these guys have no use of their legs/arms/eyes [delete as applicable] and yet they still perform superhuman feats of athleticism, right? Not the guys I saw. Every single weightlifter I saw failed to lift their weight, and I watched it for a good half hour to make sure. The table tennis players might have been in wheelchairs, but that's no excuse for hitting the ball in the net every other shot - that's just lack of skill. Frankly, I would have wiped the floor with them. It reminded me of an old Onion joke about the Special Olympics having to enlarge the winner's podium, because everyone taking part was a winner. I can only assume the Farrelly brothers saw much the same thing that I did, and came up with the idea for The Ringer.

Steve Barker is a loser: we know this much because he is played by Johnny Knoxville. Unwilling to fire his workplace janitor Stavi (Luis Avalos), he instead hires him as a personal gardener, but when a lawnmower accident leaves Stavi missing three fingers, Steve is unable to pay for the surgery. Scheming Uncle Gary (Brian Cox) comes up with the idea to rig the Special Olympics, entering his nephew Steve as a mentally infirm athlete. Cue hilarity, as Steve puts on a stupid voice, pulls his socks up to his knees and adopts his retarded persona, Jeffy Dahmor. Hesitant at first, Steve nonetheless arrives at the competition to find that - wouldn't you know it - all of the athletes are fun, happy go lucky characters who fill your heart with joy and make you believe in the power of the human spirit. No, really - handicapped athletes are people too!

As far as movie pitches go, it's hardly high concept; in fact, it stinks of one last shot from the Farrelly brothers to rustle up some righteous indignation, and some publicity with it. Don't be fooled though, this is certainly no cheap shot at the disabled community, as the official blessing from the Special Olympics proves. It's a harmless enough comedy that generates a few decent chuckles, not at the expense of the disabled actors taking part, rather the hapless Knoxville, who manages to get roundly trounced almost every time he sets foot on the field. The only problem is, because we're not allowed to laugh at the physically disabled (no sir), the onus is on the Jackass star to come up with the goods, and he's taken too many knocks to the head to realise his comic timing is way off. Besides, he makes a rubbish retard - apparently, all you need to do to be a convincing spacker is talk about yourself in the third person and hunch your shoulders - and is embarrassed in that respect by his supporting cast, only some of whom are playing at being mentally challenged.

Knoxville looks uncomfortable for the most part and his physical comedy is getting tiring, but there are some real gems in the script and his motley bunch of mouthbreathing friends at least prop him up and give the story a bit of a push when it's needed. Fellow athlete Glen (Jed Rees) is a real hoot and provides much of the laughs in the latter half of the movie, but it's a little odd laughing at disability jokes when you know the actor is able-bodied, especially when they're surrounded by the real thing. There's a preposterous love story included which is entirely surplus to requirements, complete with asshole boyfriend and heartwarming finale, but as you can imagine, it's not worth your attention at all, no matter how hot Katherine Heigl looks in a pair of shorts.

I can't figure out which is true; that ten years ago, the Farrelly brothers would have made a proper go of this and had us rolling in the aisles, or that ten years ago, we would have been rolling in this aisles at this, not having been desensitised to 99% of comedy taboos as we have been in this day and age. It's a shock-free, undemanding little movie that does what it promises and delivers some mindless giggles, but films like Dumb and Dumber did the whole mental thing so much better and still stand the test of time. If you can stomach the endless, saccharine-soaked sentiment and the decidedly insulting ending then you should end up with a good night's entertainment. Well, it's got to be better than watching the real thing on telly, anyway.

More:  Comedy  Sports  Morons
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