Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
I have to confess that I went into Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story amused by its premise and hopeful that it would do the sport of dodgeball proud! If ever there was an experience most of us can relate to, surely getting thunked on the head with a red rubber ball during grade school PE qualifies. And just because many of our collective memories are tarnished from having been picked last and eliminated first, doesn't mean I sat down ready for a smearfest.
Reflecting on her own dodgeball memories, star Christine Taylor said, "If you weren't a [great] athlete, it could be a painful experience." Alas, Dodgeball the movie is far more distressing. It goes awry in its opening scene, and doesn't let up.
The film begins with the protagonist, Peter LaFleur, asleep on his couch as a TV infomercial for Globo Gym begs for attention in the background. (The camera zooms in on women's spandex-clad bodies—heads cropped—foreshadowing the searing objectification to follow.) Globo Gym owner White Goodman aims his meanspirited sales pitch directly at his audience's deepest insecurities, labeling ugliness and fatness "genetic disorders." It's a rancid combination of highly sexualized content and nasty name-calling that sets the movie's tone.
LaFleur, it turns out, is the owner of Average Joe's gym, a rundown workout haven for the kinds of people who just don't fit at Globo Gym. LaFleur's gym has a Cheers-like quality to it. The regulars come as much to be with each other as to work out, and generally good-natured ribbing is the name of their game.
Their gym, unfortunately, sits across the street from Globo Gym, making it a prime real estate target for White Goodman's nefarious parking lot plans. LaFleur is a nice guy but a lousy bookkeeper—and the gym is in foreclosure. So Goodman's bank dispatches Kate Veatch to dig through the details of Average Joe's financial woes. (She quickly falls for LaFleur's compassionate approach to people.)
All hope for saving the gym seems lost until one of the regulars at Joe's sees an advertisement in his favorite magazine, Obscure Sports Quarterly, for a national dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas. The winning team will take home $50,000—exactly the amount Peter needs to stave off foreclosure. It's time for the misfits to play some dodgeball!
Dodgeball depicts the positive character traits that show up in most films in this genre: persevering against impossible odds, believing in yourself and others, and encouraging other teammates to give their best performance. LaFleur exhibits moments of genuine compassion for the regulars at his gym; he cares more about them than he does making Average Joe's a slick, money-making operation.
From the first scene to the very last, Dodgeball is chockfull of sexual references and images. At a carwash, bikini-clad women pose suggestively and use various parts of their bodies (including their breasts) to scrub the cars. Joe's team competes wearing skimpy bondage gear after suffering a uniform mix-up. Dodgeball cheerleaders perform in sexy outfits. An obese Goodman is seen nude in a photo (private body parts are hidden). A statue of nude wrestlers dominates his office.
That kind of visual input is only the beginning, though. Dodgeball leaves virtually no perverse sexual preoccupation untouched. The characters fixate on every expression of deviancy, including homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, oral sex, group sex, masturbation, prostitution, bondage and submission, cross-dressing, pornography and bestiality.
Several scenes are particularly crass and unnecessary. In one of them Goodman gets caught lusting after images of food on his computer screen while stuffing pizza down his pants. In another, he uses an inflatable pouch placed under his pants to accentuate his crotch. When LaFleur finally gets a chance to kiss Kate, he has to wait his turn: Before laying one on him she unexpectedly gives a woman from the audience a deep, full-mouthed kiss. When someone exclaims that she is a lesbian (the guys had been joking for some time that she was since she was a good dodgeballer), she corrects him, saying that she's bisexual. When LaFleur declines an invitation to bed some hookers, he's deemed "queer" for exercising discretion. Finally, a sick scene after the closing credits depicts an angry, fat Goodman doing things too offensive to even hint at here.
On a more subtle note, Goodman spends the entire movie making sexual overtures toward Kate, which she rejects. LaFleur—supposedly a much nicer guy—does the same, albeit in a more chivalrous fashion. Closer examination shows that his sexual habits and fondness for objectifying women differ very little from Goodman's; he's just not as obnoxious.
Dodgeball is, of course, a contact sport. The ball contacts your body. And the filmmakers missed no opportunity to punish the characters every way possible. They're especially fond of slow-mo head shots and crotch shots. (Announcer Cotton McKnight bleats, "Ouch. Right in the testicles," as if we would have missed it without his commentary.)
More problematic are old-timer dodgeballer Patches O'Houlihan's coaching methods. Patches begins one practice by saying, "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball," and proceeds to hurl wrenches at the team. Several get clocked in the head, and—for effect—writhe screaming on the floor before getting back up with no apparent harm done. After the wrench-throwing scene, Patches ups the dodging ante: "If you can dodge a car, you can dodge a ball." A hapless player is hit by cars twice as he attempts to race across a busy street. (Both scenes practically beg young, undisciplined souls to imitate them in real life.)
A large "Luck o' the Irish" sign falls and kills a wheelchair-bound man. A knife is pulled on Peter and held against his throat. Goodman tortures himself with electrodes. Patches slugs a player in the crotch. Kate smashes Goodman against a wall. A passerby in a car hurls a drink at a man on the sidewalk.
Crude or Profane Language
Profane exclamations pepper the dialogue. Goodman calls Average Joe's a "s--- heap." The f-word pops up twice, as do nearly a dozen misuses of God's or Jesus' name (Patches combines "god" with a profanity). The British profanity "b-llocks" is used. More frequent than profanity is the use of crude metaphors, name-calling and scatological references—everything from drinking urine to messing underpants.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A team of girl scouts is disqualified because one of them tests positive for three different kinds of steroids. Joe's team drinks together in a bar. A dodgeball "history" film depicts a roomful of aged Chinese men smoking opium through giant pipes.
Other Negative Elements
Goodman, who was once morbidly obese, repeatedly mocks those who are overweight.
At first glance Dodgeball is a boilerplate underdog movie in the tradition of Rocky, The Karate Kid and every other come-from-behind sports movie. The showdown here is between the buff goons from Globo Gym and the motley crew from Average Joe's. And the story moves predictably to a climactic dodgeball battle. Along the way we're introduced to colorful characters such as Steve, a Joe's regular who's convinced he's a pirate, Patches O'Houlihan, a cantankerous Irish dodgeball legend from a bygone era, and Fran Stalinofskivich Striker, Goodman's secret weapon—a monster athlete from "Ramanovia," complete with a huge mole and a "unibrow" across her pockmarked forehead.
But nothing captures the true spirit of Dodgeball better than one of the lines from the black-and-white "training film" the Average Joe's players watch: "Dodgeball is a game of violence, exclusion and degradation." I would be hard put to come up with a more accurate description of this movie. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber and producer/star Ben Stiller have created a film that does nothing more than hurl obscene material. Just as the characters must dodge wrenches, cars and incoming red rubber balls, so moviegoers are forced to dodge two hours worth of angry verbal assaults, lowbrow humor and crude—more accurately, obscene—innuendo.
The sexualized humor of every conceivable kind combined with the sheer R-rated ugliness of Stiller's angry character are simply overwhelming. This is a film that turns mocking others into an art form, with White Goodman crowned as champion mocker. The audience knows the underdogs will win, but that's not why they keep watching: Dodgeball encourages us to relish the destruction of others. And it teaches us to make it happen with our own razor-sharp words.
King David wrote, "Blessed is the man who does not ... sit in the seat of mockers" (Ps. 1:1). So when you see Dodgeball coming at you, take O'Houlihan's advice: Dodge, duck, dip or dive out of the way!