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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published September 2nd 2004:

Rawson Marshall Thurber’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog story hasn’t got a huge amount going for it at first glance. Starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn, neither of whom are exactly Kubrick-like when it comes to rationing their appearances, and with a plot most movie-goers will be able to predict in their sleep, it looks like an appropriately dodgy prospect.

Stiller plays White Goodman, owner of the mighty personal fitness chain Globogym (slogan: ‘We’re better than you and we know it’), a man with interesting dress sense, engaged in a constant losing battle with the English language. His latest undertaking is to buy and tear down local gym Average Joe’s (motto: ‘Failure is an option’) by foreclosing their mortgage. Vaughn plays Peter, the owner of Average Joe’s, a laid-back dude who is mildly perturbed to learn he needs to raise $50,000 to save his business. Luckily one of his slightly peculiar regulars spots that the upcoming national Dodgeball championships are about to be held in Las Vegas, with $50,000 as the first prize. So Peter and his band of losers, freaks, and delusional maniacs form a team and enter – little realising that White has learned of their scheme and put together the most formidable Dodgeball team in history, just to thwart them…

On paper Dodgeball looks slightly like last year’s British comedy Blackball, which made the same kind of sports-related jokes (and had Vaughn in it too). However, on screen they are much different, mainly because Dodgeball is very, very funny, occupying territory somewhere between an Austin Powers movie and a very long Simpsons episode (one of the voice cast of the latter show has a cameo here). It’s not sophisticated. It’s certainly not subtle. But it did make me laugh a lot.

Mostly this is down to Thurber’s gag-rich script which leaves no stone unturned in search of a punchline. True, the film relies to an astonishing degree on the comedic potential of the word ‘balls’ and also of people being repeatedly whacked in the head and/or groin by heavy objects – but somehow this doesn’t get tiresome. There are lots of other bits of this film that shouldn’t be nearly as funny as they are – most obviously, Alan Tudyk’s character, who is under the impression he’s a pirate – but Thurber gets away with it through verve and charm and energy.

Stiller is impressively OTT as the rather grotesque villain of the piece, complementing a rather deadpan performance by Vaughn. There’s a nice ensemble performance from the guys playing Vaughn’s regulars, and somewhere in the middle of all this is Christine Taylor as Vaughn’s love interest, probably the closest this film gets to having a normal person as a character. Rip Torn gives one of his rip-roaringly overplayed turns as a Dodgeball coach, too. There are also a number of big-name cameos at unlikely points, but to say who they are would only spoil the jokes.

This hasn’t been a particular good year for pure, knockabout comedies so far, Shrek 2 excepted, which makes Dodgeball a welcome release. It won’t change anyone’s life (except maybe the writer-director’s) or pioneer a new movement in comedy. But it will make you laugh, whether you want to or not. A lot of fun.

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