Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

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Dodgeball, we are told by helpful ESPN-8 anchors Cotton McKnight and Pepper Brooks, is the sport that “separates the men from the boys, the … awkwardly feminine from the possibly Canadian.” That there even exists a movie called “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” and that it includes sportscasters named Cotton McKnight and Pepper Brooks, makes me feel happy inside. That the sportscasters are played by Gary Cole and Jason Bateman only adds to it.

And those are just two peripheral characters! This very funny, very screwy comedy is packed with entertaining oddballs such as these. “Dodgeball” stars Vince Vaughn as Peter La Fleur, the owner of a low-rent neighborhood gym who must get his regulars together into some semblance of a team so they can win a dodgeball tournament and pay off the mortgage before evil corporate gym owner White Goodman (Ben Stiller) buys him out.

Peter is the sort of poor businessman you see a lot of in movies, with a closet full of tax records and files that cascade to the floor when you open the door. This concerns Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor), the lawyer hired by his bank to go after him for the $50,000 he owes. She hates White Goodman as much as everyone does, though, so she leans in Peter’s favor as much as she can, going so far as to join the aforementioned dodgeball team, if only so she can hit White in the face with a red rubber ball.

Oh, because White has put together a team, too, of course, to thwart Peter’s plan. White is not far off from Stiller’s “Zoolander” character: dumb, arrogant, whisper-voiced and vaguely gay, though ultimately straight. (His gym, Globo, is a wonderland of homoerotic imagery.) He is truly a cartoon in a real world, for while many of the other characters are odd — one of Peter’s teammates thinks he’s a pirate, for example — they still seem grounded in reality. Stiller, on the other hand, goes full-bozo, and it’s extremely funny, if occasionally a bit too much.

Written and directed by newcomer Rawson Marshall Thurber, this is a comedy of absurdity, both in words and in physicality. White often talks circles around himself when trying to sound intelligent, and the dialogue is rife with delicious, quotable gems. And physically, well, seeing people get hit in the face with a dodgeball, with that loud PANG! sound, is funny, no matter how many times it happens. And it happens A LOT in this movie. Sometimes they even get hit in the crotch!

Peter’s team includes Stephen Root, who was the nerdy Milton in “Office Space,” as, um, a nerdy guy; and Alan Tudyk as the aforementioned pirate. The other few don’t quite register as characters, but there is a little subplot with one of them, Justin (Justin Long), a teenager with a crush on a girl who perhaps he can woo with his dodgeball prowess.

It all works as a parody of sports flicks, too, right down to the crusty old legend who comes on as the team’s coach. (He’s Patches O’Houlihan, played with salty cantankerousness by Rip Torn, and in a 1950s instructional film by Hank Azaria.) Of course you know how the tournament ends, but what you don’t know is that there’s a hilarious “Miracle” reference that I won’t spoil for you. Giggly little treasures like that abound in this clever, juvenile movie.

B (1 hr., 29 min.; PG-13, some profanity, a lot of vulgarity, a lot of slapstick violence.)

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