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The game of dodgeball is quite simple yet conjures up so many different scenarios and player types it’s incredible. Two teams stand on opposite ends of a basketball court and proceed to throw rubber balls at each other; being hit means you’re out, or catching an opponent’s throw means they’re out and one of your own can return. It’s an American high school tradition, even filtering through to Aussie schools in my state attached to the rather poncy name of ‘poison ball’.

But it is underneath the surface where the game comes into its own. Imagine pitting the school bully against the repressed computer nerd, or the popular hot chicks who have just been fighting over who will become Prom queen. What about the bookish girl with glasses who is sick and tired of skipping gym with a doctor’s certificate? Or the fat kid who stands in the corner to become an easy (stationary) target? They’re all there if you look hard enough, and it’s easy to see why the game could be incredibly entertaining even if you’re not playing. It’s a stupid idea for a movie. In fact, so stupid it’s funny.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Movie
In typical Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller fashion the plot is pretty much wafer thin. Stiller’s White Goodman owns the large corporate entity Globo Gym, complete with cheesy yet hilariously up-front ad campaigns (“we’re better than you, and we know it!”). Vaughn’s Peter LaFleur manages Average Joe’s gym across the road, running sizeable losses and heading towards bankruptcy because he’s too nice to chase up overdue gym fees. Before long the bank starts circling Average Joe’s, forcing them to come up with the magical figure of $50,000 to avoid closure and an impending takeover from the big guys across the street.

After a very short think about their possible options, the gang down at Average Joe’s (an eclectic bunch featuring some quality character actors and a couple of relative unknowns) come up with the idea of a car wash, only to have it predictably snuffed out by a bikini-clad soap party nearby. Later that evening one member stumbles upon an ad for a dodgeball tournament with, you guessed it, a $50,000 first prize. But the gang doesn’t have a clue how to play, save for schoolboy Justin (Ed’s Justin Long, continuing his “young struggler” shtick with aplomb). After watching a video on the ins and outs of the game they decide to give it a shot. Not surprisingly Globo Gym gets wind of their plans and gleefully takes part as well, which is where the fun begins.

There is little else to it than that, though what is left is pretty easy to watch. A movie about dodgeball is never going to break new ground and the laughs are heavy on the slapstick side, yet there is still enough action to make the film half decent. Stiller is again his usual self, though he is quickly tiring audiences with the same old routine recycled over several similar personas. Vince Vaughn isn’t given as much room to provide the laughs which tends to make his performance look rather tired, yet he is still able to pull off a tormented leader on the surface, a significant step away from the confident bachelor we saw in Swingers. Rip Torn, Justin Long and Stiller’s real-life spouse Christine Taylor round out an eclectic mix, a group which doesn’t necessarily lift the roof off but do their best with what is given.

The dodgeball scenes are quite skilfully filmed. Some may have moved on past the whole “ball in the nuts” kind of comedy, but in a dodgeball arena there’s nothing more amusing, particularly as Justin Long cops every one of them, accompanied by the “pang” sound of the rubber balls. And the flashy television intros really make use of the inflated budget, making the action look a whole lot more interesting that it really is. Rip Torn as coach is purely a way to insert several showcase training scenes, again with the physical comedy that comes with it. The highlight probably comes from Gary Cole and Jason Bateman who provide the fast-paced, ESPN-style commentary from the sidelines. Bateman in particular is perfect as the oddball commentator who comes out with some typical sporting hyperboles. And look out for a couple of hilarious cameos which add to the laughs along the way.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
We’ve probably been spoilt by the resurgence of classic screwball comedies thanks to Stiller, Vaughn, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell in recent times. Dodgeball might not be the best of them but there’s no doubt this group are heading some of the better comedies with a longer replay value than most. Heck, even Booger from Revenge Of The Nerds makes an appearance in a throwback to one of the best eighties comedies around.

The jokes don’t come as thick and fast with this one but there is still enough to like about the set up and predictable final act to be entertaining. And the fact that they made a film about dodgeball at all is funny in itself. The novelty may wear off for some thanks to a collection of tired-looking performances and a storyline that has even less substance than most other screwball comedies of late. An eternally quotable flick like Anchorman it isn’t, but there’s enough to warrant a rental at least. And you’re kidding yourself if you don’t know what to expect from a film about rubber balls.

Video
The disc contains a great looking 2.35:1 transfer, bringing out all the colours of the dodgeball world extremely well. Everything looks dominantly bright and sharp, with no attempt to dumb down the visuals to enhance any ‘realism’ during the dodgeball scenes. The cartoon-ish look comes up a treat here, with no real issues to speak of at all. Very little takes place during the dead of night so there’s little for the transfer to cope with in terms of shadows or black levels. This is almost as good as it gets.

Audio
Included on this release is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack which does its best to provide enough action through the speakers to immerse you in the action. Rears are used competently for comedic effect, with the bouncing dodgeballs flying around on various occasions. Some ambient sounds also come through the rears, though probably not as much as one might have expected. Having said that, everything else it pretty much top notch, with the front stage used well for directional effects and the sub woofer being called upon on a few scenes here and there. Overall, a solid mix.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Extras
A decent set of extras have been assembled here, starting with an audio commentary from writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller. It’s more of a gag commentary as they poke fun at the sound engineers recording the comedy. Vaughn decides to eat chips throughout, burp and drink beer. They do offer a few tidbits here and there which are quite interesting to hear, but the focus is on laughs once again as the sound guys cop abuse most of the time. The one confusing thing about this track is that Peter and Bobby Farrelly take over about half way through but their words don’t seem to fit what’s on screen. Let me know if I’ve missed some comedic point there but it’s either a glitch in the review disc or something else is going on. Those who pick up the retail copy let us know if the same thing happens on yours.

The deleted and extended scenes are a mixed bunch, starting with a quite hilarious cardio-cowboy fitness routine at Globo Gym and an equally amusing monologue from Stiller and ending with the “shame triangle” on the dodgeball court. There is also an extended ending with Stiller strutting his stuff as well as an alternate ending, though it’s obvious why they were trimmed in the end.

Also included are a series of featurettes, the first of which is Dodgeball Boot Camp: Training for Dodgeball. All the cast members are interviewed about their training regime in order to get fit for the part. It’s all very tongue in cheek but there is actually behind the scenes footage of the cast being drilled in dodgeball techniques and general fitness. Running for just over three minutes, it’s quite a funny piece and a welcome addition to the disc.

The next featurette is The Anatomy Of A Hit, which deals with how the players are hit with the balls and what makes a funny dodgeball strike. This is even funnier than the first as we hear the philosophies on why certain hits are funny and the way different people react when they have to be filmed getting hit in the face or groin. The interviews are great as the actors ham it up when asked about the pain and their reactions. Again, the piece runs just over three minutes.

Still going strong, there is also a featurette called Justin Long: A Study In Ham & Cheese. The first half is a continuous shot of Long ad-libbing with two muscular jocks as he prepares for what seems to be a training sequence. The second half has to be the simple man’s highlight of the whole disc. It’s pretty much filled with Long being hit by dodgeballs and his reactions, which are actually laugh out loud funny if your sense of humour isn’t too high-brow. The rest of the piece is filled with takes of him getting hurt or trying different reactions in scenes from the film. Great stuff.

The last featurette is Dodgeball: Go For The Gold, a mock piece which promotes dodgeball as an Olympic sport. It runs for just over a minute but is fun to watch. Over the page you get a gratuitous series of takes from the dodgeball dancers, complete with an admitting introduction from director Thurber. You get to see them strut their stuff in pink, blue and black, which will please all those teenage boys out there no end. And who am I kidding? I thought it was great as well. Go straight for the blue section…

Rounding out the extras is a gag reel from the film. Bloopers are funny at the best of times and this one is generally no exception. There are also a host of easter eggs scattered throughout the disc with some really valuable material hidden inside. There are commentary tracks better than the real one on the disc as well as short clips of other funny stuff hidden around the disc. I’ll let you search them out for yourselves, or you could just visit the easter eggs section on the site.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Overall
It certainly isn’t award-winning filmmaking, but first time director Rawson Marshall Thurber does a great job at capturing the absurdity of adults playing dodgeball in an organised ESPN tournament and provides just enough laughs to suffice. Stiller and Vaughn fans in particular should dig this one, though those two are by no means at their peak. The disc itself features a great looking transfer, a decent audio mix and an extras section that is far more valuable than it actually looks, especially with the host of Easter eggs scattered throughout. If you’re after something very easy to watch, this could be the one to pick up.


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