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Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Best to dodge this one


Rating: * * (out of 5)
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Running time: 93 minutes
Language: English
Opens April 29
[See Japan Times movie listings]

The Oscars are all well and good, but really, where would we be with all carrot and no stick? Give thanks then to the Raspberry Awards -- better known as the Razzies -- which for 25 years now have served as the anti-Oscars, mercilessly dishing out unwanted recognition for the worst achievements in cinema.

News photo
Ben Stiller in "Dodgeball" (c)2004 TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

The Razzies, actually, are often more on-the-mark than their cousins down at the Academy. Morgan Freeman's Oscar win for an auto-pilot performance in "Million Dollar Baby" may have left some people puzzled, but who's going to argue with the choice of Halle Berry in "Catwoman" for the Worst Actress Razzie?

Worst Actor in 2004 was a tough field: George W. Bush won for his "performance," reading "My Pet Goat" in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9-11," but however bad he was, Dubya wasn't on the screen for even one-tenth the time Colin Farrell was in the atrocious "Alexander."

Still, if sheer volume of badness were the criteria, the hands-down winner would have been Ben Stiller, who received a record-breaking five nominations for his painfully unfunny work in "Along Came Polly," "Anchorman," "Envy," "Starsky & Hutch" and "Dodgeball." Here in Japan, Stiller is perhaps best known as "that guy who starred with Cameron Diaz in 'There's Something About Mary' ," so his nonappeal at the box office means that most of the above turkeys will go straight to video.

Not so with "Dodgeball," however, which is now playing at a cinema near you. If you've ever harbored the masochistic desire to see just how low Stiller can go ("Lower than "Zoolander?" you say in disbelief), then "Dodgeball" is your flick. Hell, you don't even have to watch the whole thing; about 20 minutes into it, you get the scene where Stiller's fitness-fascist character gives himself electric shocks on his nipples every time he reaches for a doughnut. For a topper, he inflates his spandex-clad crotch with an air pump.

If you've ever seen any sports comedy, from "The Bad News Bears" right on down, then you pretty much know what to expect in "Dodgeball": Team of lovable but bumbling losers somehow whip themselves into shape to overcome their evil, too-perfect rivals and win the big game. There are no surprises here, except, as already noted above, Stiller sucking above and beyond the call of duty.

Vince Vaugh ("Swingers") has the lead role as Peter La Fleur, the owner of a dilapidated gym called Average Joe's, which is being threatened with bankruptcy and a buyout by his obnoxious rival, White Goodman (Stiller), who runs the slickly marketed Globo Gym chain.

Peter's clientele tends toward the geeky and pear-shaped (and one guy who seems to think he's a pirate), while White's look like they're all "American Gladiator" wannabes. You get the idea: Peter has 30 days to raise $50,000 to save his gym, so he reluctantly enters a national dodgeball tournament with his misfit crew to win the cash prize.

The Average Joes almost get knocked out in the qualifying rounds by a bunch of girl scouts -- one of the film's better scenes -- so they enlist the help of former dodgeball champion Patches O'Houlihan (Rip Torn). He gets them running through busy intersections with the advice "If you can dodge traffic, you can dodge a ball!" Most of his lines, however, are sub-Farrelly Bros. material like when he critiques the team saying, "It's like watching a bunch of retards trying to f*** a doorknob out there!" Uh-huh.

Entrusted to carry the film, Vaugh falls back on his neo-Bill Murray schtick, hoping to make a virtue of laid-back attitude paired with sharp one-liners. "Dodgeball" is less "Groundhog Day," however, than "Caddyshack" or "Meatballs." As if to make up for Vaugh's low-key approach, Stiller goes into idiocy-overdrive, playing his pumped-up, blow-dried buffoon with a preening arrogance that's more obnoxious than amusing.

Still, however much you might want to hate "Dodgeball," it can make you laugh at times. I particularly enjoyed the slo-mo shot of a player getting smacked in the face with a ball that was shot as a frame-perfect parody of a scene in "Raging Bull." Stephen Root, the voice of beer-swilling Bill on the animated series "King of the Hill," has his moments as a guy who's loathed by his mail-order Filipina bride. The dodgeball games themselves are filmed with slapsticky flair, though the insinuating sportscaster commentary is a schtick clearly lifted from Christopher Guest's "Best in Show."

Having seen the multiple Oscar-winning "Million Dollar Baby" the other day, it was surprising to know it was also set in a dilapidated gym peopled with lovable misfits and also-rans, the characterizations as broad and cliched as anything in "Dodgeball." Perhaps the distance between an Oscar and a Razzie isn't as far as people think.

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