Think Bad News Bears crossed with Happy Gilmore. Except with dodgeball, which means many, many opportunities for humorous slams to the head, chest, and crotch. That pretty much sums it up.
Pete (Vince Vaughn) is about to lose his gym, the comfy hang-out “Average Joe’s,” to White (Ben Stiller), the owner of the uber-exercise facility known as Globo Gym (slogan: “We’re better than you are!”) To save the gym, he needs $50,000 in 30 days. And that just happens to be the purse for the winner of the big dodgeball tournament that one of Average Joe’s regulars finds in the pages of his Obscure Sports Quarterly magazine.
So Pete and his gang of misfits decide to take their shot. The group includes Justin (Justin Long of television’s “Ed”), Stephen Root (Office Space), and Steve the Pirate (Alan Tudyk), a guy who refers to himself in the third person and thinks he is a pirate. After winning the qualifying regional title on a technicality, they are approached by the world’s greatest dodgeball coach (Rip Torn), who reminds them that “dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion, and degradation” and in just three weeks turns them into a lean, mean, fighting machine. Or at least into a group that can duck when a wrench is thrown their way. And they pick up a new team member who can throw very, very hard.
Then it’s off to the big game, with preliminary skirmishes before facing the Globo team, men-mountains who all have names like “Laser” and “Taser” plus a unibrowed woman with very bad teeth.
All of this is just an excuse for pure silliness — lots of balls slamming into lots of people, some funny surprise cameo appearances, Ben Stiller’s clueless bully persona, and insult humor. Gary Cole and Jason Bateman have some good moments as sportscasters and Hank Azaria is fun to watch in an old instructional film the team uses to learn how to play. Most of the laughs are less in the “wow, that’s funny category” than in the “I can’t believe they tried that” category, as when a uniform mix-up has the Average Joes appearing at a match in bondage gear, but there aren’t many real clunkers. Pete’s slacker demeanor never gives Vaughn a chance to make use of his greatest asset, the slightly ADD vibe he showed to such advantage in Swingers and Clay Pigeons. And Christine Taylor (Stiller’s real-life wife) deserves better than a role that is essentially the same one she played in Zoolander. But it all moves pretty quickly and is over before it wears out its welcome.
Parents should know that the movie has some very mature material for a PG-13 including explicit sexual humor with jokes about adultery, group sex, pornography, genital size, bondage, and homosexuality along with some very strong language including many double entrendres featuring the word “balls.” Characters drink frequently, including drinking to dull pain. The coach taunts the team by calling them “ladies.”
Families who see this movie should talk about some of their own experience in feeling like an underdog. What should Pete have done when White made him an offer? Families should also talk about perseverance, and the comment made by one character that “if a person never quits after the going gets rough, they won’t have anything to regret for the rest of their lives.”
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Happy Gilmore, Zoolander, and, for older audiences, Old School (rated R). They can also check out this site for more information about different ways to play dodgeball (also called bombardment) or some of the news stories about efforts to ban the game at schools because of its violence and susceptibility to abuse and bullying.