Friday, February 3, 2012

Ten Statements About....DODGEBALL (2004)

How many sports film spoofs have their very own in-house
"If you're going to become true dodgeballers, then you've got to learn the five d's of dodgeball: dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge!"

1) This film works as well as it does for one reason, and one reason only--every actor in it down to the last cameo thoroughly and absolutely buys into the world the film posits in every possible way. Since everyone believes in this world of obscure sports, complete with its own magazine and television network, we accept it.

2) This film occurred during a period where Ben Stiller was mining the characters he created for his Fox television show--White Goodman was based on a similar physical trainer character who appeared twice--and because he's had that earlier experience, Goodman is extremely vivid as a character. Even when he behaves like a caricature (which he does frequently), he works in the world of the film and is a credible villain for Vince Vaughn's Peter.

3) And speaking of Vince friend and partner Derrick has compared him to Stripes-era Bill Murray, and I can see that. Vaughn's strength is in how he enhances and supports the other stars of the film around him. While Justin Long and Stephen Root and Rip Torn and Alan Tudyk and others do much of the heavy comedic lifting, Vaughn facilitates them every step of the way.

4) I know I've said this before--but my favorite of these satellite characters is Alan Tudyk's Steve The Pirate. The script has no explanation why Steve is a pirate, what his motivations are....he's just Steve The Pirate. Hell, his disappearance at the beginning of the third act even leads to one of the funnier gags in the film. But then...

5) The first of two strengths of Rawson Marshall Thurber's script is how the humor comes not from nonsensical gross out, but from characters and how they interact with each other. That's the key to real comedy.

What are you going to do with that pizza, Dwight?  What
are you doing with that Pizza?
6) The other strength is the meticulous attention to detail Thurber pays to the sport of professional dodgeball. As someone who does follow sports, I was appreciative of how this sport had specific rules, penalties and even personalities and announce teams so that when the sillier aspects of this story were plugged into it (like the teams other than Average Joes and The Purple Cobras), they instantly gain a modicum of veracity.

7) And speaking of Announce Teams, I don't think enough is made of the performances of Gary Cole and Jason Bateman as the commentators for the tournament. Not only do Cole and Bateman have a great chemistry together, they have a thorough understanding of how the play-by-play and color announcer system works. And, like everything else, there is a level of detail (notice the dodgeball tattoo on Bateman's neck) that just makes the world of the film believable.

8) You would think that the cameo by Lance Armstrong would make the film a dated prospect...but because the joke Thurber builds around this cameo is based on Armstrong reciting his cv, it avoids being an albatross around the film's neck and actually moves the plot along beautifully.

"Don't worry kids...later in the movie, I grow up to be Rip Torn!"
9) You want a way to give people gross out humor without disrupting the feel of the film or make everyone behave out of character? You confine the stuff about laxatives and having sexual congress with pizza to only one of them, namely Stiller. Since the grossness is only confined to White Goodman, and because Thurber picks and chooses his moments to inject said grossness, it manages to enhance the film without overpowering it. And arguably the grossest moment is left for the after-credits teaser.

10) While I am a fan of Stiller, I point to films like this to show how he can be far more effective as a secondary character rather than as a star. Due to his sketch comedy background, he's capable of creating grotesques like Goodman that can be used in support of a larger tapestry. Not that I'm saying he should be banished to support-hood like, let's say, Danny McBride, but it might be something for him to consider as he enters late middle age. of those near perfect ticking timepieces of a film, which manages to remain consistently funny throughout its running time thanks to an attention to detail, a clever script, and a meticulously put together cast. This is how the modern style of comedy should be handled.

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