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Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/9/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/7/2008

The sports film has now become so clichéd, that it's...well...beyond clichéd. We know that most of the time we are going to be treated to an underdog team or athlete who must train rigorously and overcome great odds to succeed. And even if the team/athlete doesn't win (which rarely happens), there's usually some uplifting moment at the end. So, it's nice when someone can bring a new twist to the sports film. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story may bring all of the well-known attributes of a sports movie to the table, but the bizarre aspect of the sport and the stellar cast make this movie a breath of fresh air.

Dodgeball tells the story of two competing gyms. GloboGym is a state-of-the-art facility which is run by the narcissistic White Goodman (Ben Stiller), a muscle-bound weirdo who preaches self-love to his clients. Across the street, we have Average Joe’s Gym, which is the baby of Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn). Average Joe’s is a dank and run-down place, inhabited by a group of shabby regulars, including, Justin (Justin Long), high-school kid who got picked on when he worked out at school; Gordon (Stephen Root), a middle-aged man who loves obscure sports; Owen (Joel Moore), a towel-boy who longs to find true love; Steve (Alan Tudyk), who thinks he’s a pirate; and Dwight (Chris Williams), who tries to remain positive about his bad job at Average Joe’s. Peter receives a visit from Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor), a financial attorney who informs Peter that he owes the bank $50,000 and that if he can’t pay it in 30 days, he’ll lose the gym. To make matters worse, if he can’t come up with the money, White Goodman will be able to buy Average Joe’s. Gordon suggests that the guys enter a dodgeball tournament where the grand prize is $50,000. Goodman learns of this and forms his own dodgeball team, comprised of huge athletes. As Peter and his team of misfits begin to train, they realize that dodgeball is much more challenging than they ever imagined.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story takes every sports movie cliché and twists it as much as possible. The guys on the Average Joe’s team aren’t just underdogs, they are complete losers. Justin was traumatized by a cheerleading tryout, Peter brushes his teeth with Yoo-Hoo, and Steve the Pirate...thinks he’s a pirate. This group not only has to overcome insurmountable odds to win at dodgeball, they have to overcome these odds just to live. Just as weird is White Goodman, who takes the overblown bad-guy role to the extreme. White not only offends people with his obnoxious behavior, but also with his unusual way of speaking, where he’s constantly murdering the English language. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber has also filled the dodgeball tournament with bizarre teams, rounding out this strange world that he’s created. Much of the film’s humor comes from these misfits and the perils that they go through to get to the tournament.

While the premise and story of Dodgeball is quite funny, it’s the cast of the film that truly brings the script to life. It’s great to see Ben Stiller get away his trademarked stammering everyman character and play a truly insane villain and he gets a lot of mileage out of Goodman’s bizarre behavior. In contrast, Vince Vaughn seems to be filming another chapter in the life of his character from Old School. But, that’s OK, as Peter La Fleur comes across as one of the nicest, most good-natured men on the planet, and the viewer can’t help but feel that he’d be a cool guy to hang out with. Stiller’s wife Christine Taylor is good as the surprisingly down-to-earth Kate. Justin Long, who has shown a knack for humor in other roles, really goes for broke here, and becomes the film’s true scapegoat. Dodgeball also features some great cameos, which I won’t ruin here, but I can say that I want to see more footage of the sportcasters at the dodgeball tournament. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is a fun film which will appeal to fans of off-the-wall comedies. The movie may not fully maximize the comedic potential of its material, but there are some classic moments here, and those who like Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn won’t be disappointed.

As with many films of late, Dodgeball was a PG-13 rated comedy which contained some mild profanity and many racy jokes. This new "unrated" cut is most likely an R-rated cut which was submitted for approval and had to be cut to achieve a PG-13. As with the PG-13 rated theatrical cut, the "unrated" cut comes in at 92 minutes long. As far as I can tell, this new cut essentially replaces the PG-13 jokes with edgier jokes and a few "F-bombs". There are no new scenes, no new subplots, and none of the things that we typically see in "unrated" cuts, such as additional violence and nudity. Basically, the Dodgeball: Unrated cut gives us a look at what the film could have been...

...which isn't much different from the PG-13 cut. Honestly, this new cut won't change your feelings about the movie -- if you liked it before, you'll still like it, and if you didn't, this version won't make it any more endearing. I laughed in all of the same spots that I did when I saw the PG-13 version. The only "new" joke that I laughed at actually appears in the theatrical cut, but here "hump" is replaced by "f*&$" and that made my inner-child chuckle. (This particular quip, which comes from Rip Torn, is interesting because the view cuts away from Torn in the PG-13 cut, so that the "hump" line could be dubbed in.) For those who haven't seen the film, it actually doesn't matter which version you watch. Unlike films such as The Grudge, where I'd recommend seeing the unrated version, the two versions of Dodgeball mirror each other to the point that choosing one is of little consequences. (Unless of course you'll be watching the film with children, then I'd go with the PG-13 cut.)

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is hit below the belt on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 33 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only slight grain and no defects from the source materials. While I wouldn't necessarily think of this as a "colorful" film, the colors look very good here, most notably Average Joe's uniforms and the contrasting purple worn by their arch-enemies. The image is well-balanced and it's never too bright or dark. The depth and level of detail are good, but not perfect. This is a slight, but definitely noticeable improvement over DVD. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. There are some good stereo effects here, most notably in the gym scenes and at the tournament. The stereo is well-defined and nicely detailed. Surround sound effects abound at the tournament, and there are some great moments where the sound of the ball passes from the front to the rear. The bass comes into play during the games and we feel the balls hit.

The Dodgeball Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extra features. Things are kicked off with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director/writer Rawson Marshall Thurber, and stars Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller. This is a mock commentary track, as the three insult the film and one another. Vaughn crunches potato chips into the microphone while Stiller complains constantly. There are some truly funny moments here, but at some point, I wanted to learn more about the film and we don't get many facts from this commentary. (Oddly, this commentary is the only one listed on the packaging or on the menus, however if one cycles through the audio options while watching the movie, you'll find another commentary with this trio. This is one of those nice commentaries which is both entertaining and informative. This trio discusses the background of the film, the production, and in some of the funniest moments, how the cameos came about. This is one of those rare commentaries that you’ll want to listen to all the way through. There is then a third commentary with Thurber by himself. Why weren't these listed?) The Disc contains 9 Deleted & Extended Scenes and there is optional commentary by Thurber. (There is a PLAY ALL feature.) These scenes are interesting, but definitely throwaway moments, save for the “Cardio Cowboy”. The “Alternate Ending” (with optional commentary by Thurber) is actually one of the scenes from the film where Dodgeball was going to end on a down note. I love to see filmmakers stand up for their art, but I can’t believe that Thurber, Stiller, and Vaughn wanted this goofy film to end on such a down note. (Thurber actually left the film over this moment.) There are four Featurettes on the disc. “Dodgeball Boot Camp: Training for Dodgeball“ (3 minutes) contains behind-the-scenes footage of the actors playing dodgeball in order to prep for the movie. (There’s a great line from Vaughn here where he describes his physique.) With “The Anatomy of a Hit” (3 minutes), Thurber discusses physical comedy and why it’s funny to see a dodgeball hit someone. “Justin Long: A Study in Ham & Cheese” (3 minutes) spotlights this young actor and shows the many, many times he was hit with a ball. Still and Vaughn discuss their desire to see dodgeball in the Olympics in “Dodgeball: Go for the Gold” (1 minute). The extras are rounded out with a funny 3-minute Gag Reel, as well as two trailers for Dodgeball. "Dodgeball Dancers" is basically extra footage of the scantily-clad dancers lasting 2 1/2 minutes.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long