Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is a way more entertaining movie than it has any right to be. It is deeply idiotic, formulaic, one-dimensional, and all over the place. But it is also self-aware enough to mine these things skillfully and produce a movie that is pretty damned funny, even if you’re kind of ashamed at yourself for laughing so hard at it.
So okay, here goes: Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) is some schlump who runs a gym called Regular Joe’s, where marginally motivated people go to hang out and do just enough exercise to feel like hey, at least they’re doing something. Across the street is Globo Gym, run by the demonic White Goodman (Ben Stiller) who is everything you ever hated about the physical fitness industry and the self-improvement industry distilled into a single individual. Like if Joel Osteen invented CrossFit. LaFleur’s gym is on the verge of bankruptcy, and arch-rival Globo Gym across the street is going to buy it out and level the place for a parking lot unless LaFleur can cough up $50K in a month. LaFleur’s only option is to enter his staff and most loyal clients into a world championship dodgeball tournament and for the love of God I cannot believe I am even trying to write a cogent synopsis of this thing.
This movie is about dodgeball, okay? It’s about freaks who look at physical fitness as some kind of super-annoying religion. It’s about wallflowers who figure out how to make something of themselves. It’s about unlikely relationships forming between even more unlikely partners. It’s about hitting people in the face with a red utility ball. It’s about evil Girl Scouts who get busted for illegal use of steroids and beaver tranquilizers. It’s about showing up for a major competition accidentally dressed in bondage gear. It’s about getting caught rubbing a slice of pizza against your business district. It’s about women who look like a Soviet version of Princess Leia. It’s about training people to catch a ball by throwing wrenches at them. It’s about going to Las Vegas and getting guilt tripped by Lance Armstrong, earning a thumbs-up from Chuck Norris, and watching David Hasselhoff freak out in German. It’s about having the biggest moment of your life narrated by compete knuckleheads like Cotton McKnight and Pepper Brooks. It’s about trying to win the championship of something billed as “bigger than the World Cup, the World Series, and World War II combined,” and doing it by getting past teams like the She-Mullets, Clown Punchers, and the Poughkeepsie State Flying Cougars. It’s about sudden-death shootouts and bitchy old guys in wheelchairs and dudes who think they are pirates, and winning by playing blindfolded. It’s like an escape-the-room exercise for comedy writers, only there’s a bomb with a 90-minute timer counting down, and the doors out will only open once they cough up a couple dozen decent jokes about grownups playing a child’s game.
The best part about this movie for me, is a throwaway gag near the end when we see that the big tournament is being aired live on ESPN 8, aka “The Ocho.” This is ESPN’s network for airing obscure quasi-sports like tractor racing, fire soccer, water skiing for squirrels, and snake-whipping. If it’s almost a sport, then it’s on the Ocho.
This gag utterly slays me, and it’s this movie’s moment of truth, because dammit, the world deserves the Ocho. No, really, the world deserves the Ocho. I’m not kidding. This is something that needs to happen. We’ve already got a world in which people regularly compete in wife carrying, cheese rolling, bossaball, zorbing, noodling, extreme ironing, bog snorkeling, octopush, chess boxing, ferret legging, toe wrestling, kite tubing, shin kicking, and quidditch. We’ve also already got a world with channels where you can watch Guy Fieri talk with his mouth full all day long or hear Giorgio Tsoukalos explain how aliens somehow invented Real Housewives of Orange County. So can somebody please explain to me why the hell can’t we get the freaking Ocho up and running? Come on, people! Work with me here. I mean, I can accept that maybe we need to wait until we get a 24-hour Japanese game show channel first. But aside from that, I don’t want to hear any excuses. Please don’t make me get all White Goodman about it. I’m just a Regular Joe. I want to sit back with a beer and and a couple of throwing wrenches and watch some freaking dodgeball already.