There are some things that just cant be defended rationally, but nonetheless hold an irrational sway over us. A banana split falls into that category. Whatever molecules of calcium, protein, and potassium that the confection contributes to our nutritional requirements, they are more than outweighed by the sticky, gooey wonders of all that is bad in its mounds of artery-clogging ice cream and pancreas-testing hot fudge. And thus it is with DODGEBALL, a film that can skirt the supernal heights of Monty Python or Saturday Night Live during its good years. The rest of the time, well, its more like SNL, the bad years. Or a big lump of that polysorbate used to stabilize the ingredients in the ice cream.
The story pits two gym owners against one another in a high-stakes dodgeball match in Las Vegas that will decide not only who wins the tournament, but also who gets to stay in business. The underdog is Pete La Fleur (Vince Vaughn), the easy-going owner of the aptly named Average Joes, an establishment whose motto is aim low, and thats not just when lobbing the ball at the opposing team. The competition is White Goodman (Ben Stiller), the owner of Globus, a state-of-the-art uber-gym that bears the slogan, Were better than you are and we know it. Hes a recovering fatty with an inflatable cod-piece in his spandex work-out ensemble, a fu-manchu moustache, and hair that been feathered and styled to within a follicle of its life. Clearly, this is a man with issues, the which the audience susses out long before it witnesses him doing something unwholesome with a slice of pizza. The fact that he is also a guy with more hair than brains becomes a running, but alas, not terribly funny joke in Stillers incapable hands that turn everything into a tired shtick that begs to be put out of its misery.
Vaughn fares much better, playing the quintessential straight man, giving up only a quizzical semi-raised eyebrow to the odd cast of characters that inhabit his gym and their goings-on, not the least of which is a wheelchair-bound ex-dodgeball champion (Rip Torn), who shows up to coach the ragtag team to uncertain victory. The film as a whole starts its take-off when Torn appears and I predict that the sequence wherein he demonstrates that if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball will become a minor classic of its kind. Before he shows, the flick is a wildly uneven beast. Theres a deliciously un-PC school instructional film about the history of the game in question that is only slightly less vicious than the game itself actually is, a game the film lovingly describes as based on violence, exclusion, and degradation. But there are way too many dead spots and dead ends, such as Alan Tudyck, an actor of great comedic skill when allowed, essaying a low-rent version of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN for no readily apparent reason or, more importantly, pay off. Fortunately, when it does get its rear in gear, this flick is one dollop of silliness after another, including Jason Bateman as Pepper, the color commentator without a clue covering the match for ESPN 8, The Ocho, and a slew of inspired cameos that sometimes work as more than just sight gags.
Any film that references Lewis Carrolls Jabberwocky and labels its deus ex machina device as such has my sympathetic attention. When it also makes me laugh out loud in spite of myself on a semi-regular basis, I have to surrender my qualms. Look beyond the obvious jokes that should have been edited out during the first re-write, and, if you can, beyond Stillers preening, self-involved performance. DODGEBALL has the touch of inspired inanity, the sort that spawns cult followings. If only it could have maintained the good stuff throughout. Then again, maybe some of would have seriously busted a gut if it had.