‘If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!’ is the rallying cry of Patches O’Houllihan (Rip Torn) in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s popular comedy; there may be a few regrettably dated jokes in here, but in general, Dodgeball is still an amusing parody of the classic American sports movie. Things have changed since 2004, and the opening credits’ fat-shaming gag raises a few suspicions, but a few lapses aside, Dodgeball has its heart in the right place when it comes to embracing a team of lovable misfits overcoming ridiculous odds..
Gym-owner Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) is hardly a paragon of fitness; his ‘don’t care’ attitude has got him precisely nowhere in life, and the bills for his spartan Average Joe gymnasium are piling up. His rival, cocky White Goodman (Ben Stiller in highlights) sees a chance to expand his bland Globogym empire at LaFleur’s expense, but LaFleur attempts to regain financial stability by entering a Las Vegas dodgeball competition, with enough prize-money at stake to stave off the bailiffs. Goodman, who is anything but what his name suggests, sees LaFleur’s move and attempts to block him by putting together his own team of steroid-based supermen and women…
Comedies often depend on the recognition factor of celebrity cameos to paper over a lack of constructed jokes, but Dodgeball earns points because such cameos feel right for the low-rent sub-Vegas feel; William Shatner, David Hasselhoff and Chuck Norris are all a good fit here. More surprising, perhaps, is the very 2004 adulation for Lance Armstrong, but the inspirational appearance of the now-disgraced cycling champion now only adds to the deliberately shonky messaging here. And a cameo from Ozark’s Jason Bateman as a super-stoner commentator isn’t perhaps the star’s most serious moment for his sizzle-reel, but he’s clearly having fun.
And in general, so are we; Dodgeball is non-stop slapstick, and if you enjoy watching actors getting hit in the face with balls, you’ll probably enjoy seeing them hit in the face with wrenches and other ephemera. Stiller’s wife Christine Taylor gets rather less to do than the guys in a thankless role, and some gags could do with an excise; body shaming is too often a lazy punch-line for comfort. But Dodgeball isn’t trying to change the world, just raise a simple laugh, and with Steve the Pirate (Alan Tudyk) on your team, we’re all winners when Dodgeball is the game we got.