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Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

(2004) ** 1/2 Pg-13
96 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber. Cast: Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor, Ben Stiller, Rip Torn, Justin Long.

Average Joe's Gym has a motto for its dodgeball team: "Aim low." Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber's gleefully silly Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story follows this rule in what plays like an extension of a Ben Stiller Show sketch (but a pretty good one, at that).

A buffed-up Stiller, in a caterpillar moustache, plays the preening bad guy of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story: White Goodman, owner of Globo-Gym. His sleek, richly-appointed super-gym literally overshadows the more neighborly Average Joe's, where everybody knows your name and proprietor Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn) only selectively remembers his finances.

When bad accounting threatens the closure of Average Joe's, the misfit clientele rally around the flag by aiming to win a dodgeball championship cash prize. Among the gym rats are uber-nerd Gordon (played by uber-nerd expert Stephen Root), the self-explanatory Steve the Pirate (Alan Tudyk), and high-school loser Justin (Justin Long of Jeepers Creepers). A sympathetic lawyer (Christine Taylor) joins the spontaneous dodgeball team, mostly because she finds Goodman (played by her real-life husband Stiller) so repellent.

The team also gratefully runs afoul of ex-dodgeball champion Patches O'Houlihan, played—in an outrageous flashback—by Hank Azaria and—in dissolute old age—by Rip Torn. In fifties-filmstrip black-and-white, Azaria explains to a tow-headed kid that the legendarily sadistic grade-school game of dodgeball was devised by "opium-addicted Chinamen." This notion goes a long way to explaining the oddball sport so often featured in Gordon's favorite magazine (Obscure Sports Quarterly) and on ESPN 8 ("The Ocho").

All of this runs, steadily, on age-old sport-movie conventions and ruthless comedic stereotypes: Germans, Russians, Japanese folks, and fat people, get in line. No joke is too stupid (Steve the Pirate?) or too far below the belt for Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, and after a while, even skeptics will probably cry "uncle" and laugh at one of the oh-so-many stupid jokes, like Stiller's now-trademark verbal gymnastics.

Thurber ups the interest level by stuffing the picture with crazy cameos, and recasting Best in Show's Jim Piddock-Fred Willard double-act with a straight-faced Gary Cole and an amusingly zoned-out Jason Bateman. Added points for actually labeling the object of the finale "deus ex machina" and scoring the Paul Simon-Bruce Woodley tune "Red Rubber Ball" for the soundtrack. Vaughn's La Fleur attests that he has no goals, so he's "never disappointed." With low expectations for this raucous crowd-pleaser, you won't be disappointed, either.

NOTE: Stick around to the not-so-bitter end for some bonus yuks from Stiller.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 12/9/2008

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox ports over to Blu-ray its unrated edition of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, and the results are mightily impressive. The picture is vibrantly colorful and detailed in ways that put its DVD counterpart to shame. No digital artifacts intrude on a spotless and inviting picture, and though the film's soundscape is limited, the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track certainly gets the job done, perking up considerably for the extended climax at the raucous dodgeball finals.

The commentary with writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ben Stiller, and Vince Vaughn may be the most entertaining commentary track ever. Developing the premise of a commentary that goes horribly wrong from the outset, Thurber, Vaughn, and Stiller play themselves as, respectively, a frustrated reactionary; a mood-swinging egotist eating, drinking and smoking while narrating the obvious; and a sarcastic jerk who shows up late. Things devolve into a worst-case scenario requiring the sound engineers to do the unthinkable.

"Deleted/Extended Scenes" (12:02 with "Play All" option), with optional commentary by Thurber, are all pretty funny while adding a bit of character development. In "Dodgeball Boot Camp: Training for Dodgeball" (3:27, SD), Justin Long, Stephen Root, Vaughn, Alan Tudyk, Christine Taylor, and Chris Williams discuss their regimen as we watch footage of their dodgeball training.

"The Anatomy of a Hit" (3:25, SD) is a standard promotional featurette with Thurber, Stiller, Long, Vaughn, and Root, while "Justin Long: A Study in Ham and Cheese" (3:34, SD) offers a series of outtakes showcasing Long's improvisatory skills and physical comedy.

In "Dodgeball: Go for the Gold" (1:20, SD) Vaughn and Stiller shill for dodgeball as an Olympic sport. There's a self-explanatory "Bloopers/Gag Reel" (3:02, SD), as well as "More with the Dodgeball Dancers" (2:29 with "Play All" option, SD), which comes with a brief introduction by Thurber that leads into extended footage.

There's also an "Easter Egg" (:29) with fat Goodman explaining how to access yet more Easter Eggs during playback. It sounds like a joke, but what Goodman says actually works, so seek out the easter egg before watching the movie.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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