Owning a rundown gym called "Average Joe's," Pete LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) is up to his eyeballs in debt. Sitting next door to Pete's gym is the massive Globo Gym (slogan: "We're better than you, and we know it!"), owned by the diminutive and borderline insane bodybuilder, White Goodman (Ben Stiller). White wants to buy Pete's fitness center and turn it into a parking ramp, much to the dismay of Pete's few customers (including Justin Long, Alan Tudyk, and Stephen Root). Their solution? To enter the dodgeball championship coming up in Las Vegas, with a grand prize of $50,000, just enough to keep Globo Gym from taking control of Average Joe's. Forming their team, along with a former dodgeball champ turned drunken coach (Rip Torn), Pete's "Average Joes" squad heads to Sin City to compete, finding White and his "Purple Cobras" there to try and stand in their way.
"Dodgeball" (IMDb listing) belongs in a special class of cinema: the angry sports comedy. Like "Happy Gilmore," "The Bad News Bears," and the film's blatant template (to a litigious degree), the 1998 Trey Parker/Matt Stone sports satire "Baseketball," "Dodgeball" is a comedy about the body blows and the lovable losers of life getting their faces pushed into the dirt. Writer/director Rawson Marshal Thurber is clearly bowing to the sports comedy classics, stealing all the good bits from other, better movies. But those great minds didn't have the sense to set their lunacy in the arena of dodgeball: game of the Gods.
It's worthless to preach on about how hilarious a film "Dodgeball" is. Either you respond to this type of distinctive, broadly nonsensical humor or you don't. For those in the former category, "Dodgeball" is a screechingly funny triumph. Thurber is able to skillfully capture the insane amount of hilarity on display here, finding special effectiveness in the dodgeball sequences, utilizing that unforgettable rubber ball sound to draw the audience in before smashing them across the face with those zipping spheres of red fury.
Of course, this being a flat-out comedy, most of those balls end up south of the face, which is the only real criticism of the film I can come up with. "Dodgeball" is all too willing to get crude for a laugh (the local bar is called "The Dirty Sanchez," the dodgeball league's slogan is "Go balls deep!"), and it never really needs to. The multitude of crotch hits and comical assumptions of homosexuality give the film the appearance of trying too hard for a laugh, missing the uproarious details of the situations presented; like when the Average Joes take on a team of girl scouts in their qualifying round, or when Lance Armstrong subtly berates Pete for quitting the game when, frankly, Pete doesn't understand what thinking about quitting really means.
Thurber is also blessed with a cast that works miracles with the film's idea. Especially in his two leads, with Vaughn and Stiller effortlessly hitting high notes as the rival gym owners. Stiller seems to have resurrected a long lost character from his old "Ben Stiller Show" series, shaping a manic, possessed performance that should be a treat for anyone who thought he should lose the passive-aggressive moron routine his last few roles have hinged upon. He's an absolute scream here with his feathered hair, fatty food fetish, and handlebar moustache. It's great to see him back in bizarre "Zoolander" form again.
On the other side of the court is Vaughn, who is effortless in his delivery and aces in his reactions to the zany dodgeball world. Vaughn has a great team to back him up, but he's the only actor working in Hollywood today who could make a "Thong Song" reference funny. No small feat.
"Dodgeball" eventually reaches cruising altitude when the action switches over to the Las Vegas championship, allowing Thurber to trot out David Hasselhoff and Chuck Norris cameos for added laughs, and letting his audience to get a face full of dodgeball action. Will the Average Joes be defeated? Will they come from behind for victory? Maybe you know the answer to that already, but that's not as important as the journey. Thurber has written a paper-thin, clichéd-up-the-ying-yang story for his dodgeball opus, but he's made it all worthwhile by keeping the laughs in full bloom, the spirit madcap, and the facial hits plentiful.
Let's recap: not "Citizen Kane," not Merchant-Ivory, nothing respectable to be found here. "Dodgeball" is just a simple, rock solid, uproarious slapstick comedy for those who like their laughs from the belly and their Ben Stiller in free-range mode.
Filmfodder Grade: A-