Why Is The 2004 Film “Dodgeball” Still So Funny?

 

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By: Dan Tomasik

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story came out 10 years ago and for reasons that boggle the mind, we are still laughing at it. No matter which way you look at the movie, it should have just been a quick, cheap, faux sports comedy featuring a group of pathetic losers and a lot of round balls. Forgotten in a week, dismissed as a typical crude Hollywood comedy.

But even now, the movie still makes us laugh. Not because it’s dated or stupid, but because it’s still just as funny now as it was when it first came out. What is the secret to Dodgeball‘s success?

The Script:

A group of losers have 30 days to earn the $50,000 they need to save their gym from being purchased/bulldozed by an evil fitness guru/freak. The solution, a dodgeball tournament with a $50,000 prize. Standing in their way, Psycho-Gym.

Nothing about this hasn’t been done before a million times. It’s one of the most pathetic and overdone stories in film, possibly the most formulaic setup of all time. This version it’s a gym that needs saving and dodgeball that holds the key to doing it. Nothing particularly brilliant so far.

The script features such brilliant gems as:

You’re going down like a sweet muffin!

*

Oh, Kate, I didn’t realize you were here.

You asked me to come, White.

*

And the Average Joe’s beat the Germans in a *shocking* upset.

I feel *shocked*.

*

Come on, Kate. It’s time to put your mouth where our balls are.

*

Is it necessary for me to drink my own urine? No, but it’s sterile and I like the taste.

*

I know you. You know you. And I know you know that I know you.

The Characters:

Pathetic/Apathetic Lead

Peter LaFleur has no passions, no goals, and no motivation to do anything besides eat, sleep, and masturbate. He may act like he’s interested in things, but under the surface he doesn’t really care about anything. His bills are piling up, his gym is failing, his pornos are overdue, his car barely works, and he lacks any initiative or purpose.

Typical loser, absolutely nothing special about him. If anything, we should hate this guy. Vince Vaughn certainly isn’t doing much to make his way of life seem appealing. He just trudges his way through everything waiting for it to fail so he can go back to his given-up-on-life routine.

Hapless Band of Losers

The members of Average Joe’s gym are an oblivious overweight wimp, a pathetic lovesick teenager (and male cheerleader), a token black guy, a lanky weirdo who spouts nonsense, and a man who thinks he is a pirate. All lazy archetypes that have been in a hundred movies (well, besides Steve the Pirate). By the end, the wimp lets out his repressed emotions, the kid gets the girl, the weirdo discovers weird love, the pirate finds treasure, and the token black guy…. somethings.

The most well-known actor amongst the losers is Justin Long, which is saying something. Alan Tudyk and Joel David Moore are the kind of guys who appear in a lot of random stuff, although people rarely recognize them beyond, “Hey! It’s… that guy”. Stephen Root (Gordon) is everywhere in TV and movies, but even less recognized by most. And Dwight is so trapped in “token black character” status that he doesn’t even get a subplot, causing many to forget Chris Williams was even in the movie. The only time Dwight has a shot to himself is when he is being nailed by dodgeballs.

The Bad Guys-

Our villain is an over-the-top, fitness-obsessed dingbat with a Napoleonic complex and a disgusting S&M food fetish. His gym’s motto is “We’re better than you, and we know it!”. He’s the most ridiculous character in a cast that includes a pirate, lumberjacks, football players, angry Chinese men in diapers, and a female Romanovian nuclear plant dodgeball champion who kills a drunk in a bar with a rubber ball. White Goodman is beyond out-there, he’s completely in his own little world/movie. A world/movie where he is an intelligent, attractive, powerful, self-made man ruling a utopia called Globo Gym. A 3-year-old can see him for what he really is, an a**hole.

White’s dodgeball team is comprised of three silent, muscle-bound gorillas named Blade, Laser, and Blazer, a bizarre/hideously ugly foreigner, and a token black guy who could probably swallow Michael Clarke Duncan. White steals the spotlight in every single play, because he sees it as a crime for him not the be the center of attention at all times.

The Mentor-

Patches O’Houlihan is a disgusting, crippled, former dodgeball all-star who may be severely demented, sick in the head, delusional, or possibly just a crazy homeless man believing himself to be Patches O’Houlihan. His private life is so gross that his death may have actually made the world a safer place to be.

His “guidance” typically consists of “stop being a pansy” and at least one jab at someone’s genitals (be it metaphorical or physical). His training always involves the distinct likelihood of someone getting seriously injured. Every lesson is perpetuated by flying wrenches, speeding cars, or dodgeballs. On the court, he offers pep talks of the “stop sucking so much!” variety. That they actually win games is a miracle.

The Love Interest-

We also have a love interest who is (naturally) sought after by both the lead and the villain. As per usual, she and the lead end up together in the end, despite not being initially attracted to each other. The main intersecting connection she and Peter seem to have is a mutual dislike for White Goodman, not the hardest thing to come by. Kate’s personality is a lawyer. Who played softball for 8 years. And is bisexual. She also likes unicorns. These four little tidbits are the complete list of developments Kate receives during the course of the movie. Her relationships with the cast are as follows:

Peter: Pity/Shared belief that White is a jerk

White: Disgust

Hapless Band of Losers: Supportive/Slightly humiliated to be seen with them

Patches: Perpetually trying to blot out everything that he says

The Comedy:

The comedy comes in three forms:

1. People getting hit by flying objects.

2. Bizarre lines delivered completely seriously.

3. White Goodman.

For the most part, it’s people getting hit by flying objects. Head shots, crotch shots, eye shots, face shots, hit-him-while-he’s-on-the-ground shots, hit-him-when-he’s-not-looking shots, etc.

The lines are delivered without any indication that anything going on is in any way strange. Every once in a while a character will think for a moment about what has just been said and question it, but it’s quickly forgotten.

True to his slogan, White Goodman believes that everything he says or does is better than everyone else. His jokes are hilarious, his beliefs righteous, his morals unquestionable, his sexual attraction undeniable, his facade(s) unbreakable. He is so obsessed with being the best at everything that he will change his mind mid-thought to ensure he comes up with the right answer before the end of his piece. White Goodman always has the last word, even if he has to spout utter nonsense to get it.

The Acting:

Ben Stiller chews every scene he’s in as White Goodman. Everyone else just seems to be going through the motions without much commitment. No one wants to try and make the jokes sound funny, they just want to get them over with.

The Result:

Dodgeball is indescribably hilarious. It somehow manages to be funny when on every level it shouldn’t be.

The biggest key to its success is what would ordinarily be construed as its greatest weaknesses. The complete disconnection with the humor. No one acts as if anything said is funny, which makes it that much funnier to hear. The main players take everything so serious that they have no idea they’re in a comedy. It’s a drama as far as they’re concerned. A drama with some real nutballs along the way. They never treat anything like it’s funny, only strange or weird; which is exactly the way it should be treated. We all experience weirdness in our lives, and our typical response is to just go along with it without getting too drawn in. How would you handle a friend who believes he’s a pirate? Friendly remarks, support his delusional endeavors, and pray he doesn’t hurt you. Same for dealing for hopeless losers, oblivious wimps, lovesick teens, etc. Ask them about their day, listen to their problems, give them enough encouragement to end the conversation and return to your regularly scheduled life. It even works when dealing with psychotic fitness jerks. Nod your head, pretend to contribute to the conversation, and get out of there as soon as possible. It’s this attitude that makes Vince Vaughn such a perfect choice for Peter LaFleur. Vince Vaughn is at his best playing the straightman, the one sane person surrounded by crazies. One would be hard-pressed to find a place with more crazies than a dodgeball competition.

It’s this spirit which enables Peter and the Joes to triumph through the tournament. In the world of obscure sports sponsored by the American Dodgeball Association of America, a firm grasp of reality will take one far. Half of the competing teams are in their own little worlds, actually picking up and throwing dodgeballs at them is enough to win in many cases. Throw in a little skill, an emotional freakout or two, and a few lucky breaks, and voila; dodgeball championship.

Another strong factor to the film’s success is the amount of hidden humor that audiences don’t realize until subsequent viewings. Again, the complete lack of realization that it’s a comedy works to the movie’s advantage. There is so much deadpan delivery that one doesn’t realize the absurdity of what’s being said until later. Allowing the audience to discover the humor on their own instead of pointing it out helps it stick in their minds longer.

There’s also the cast. Not just the main actors, but the supporting cast, who make their characters so distinctly them that they rise above the archetypes written for them. 10 years later, we all remember Steve the Pirate fondly. There are also the there-and-gone characters. Goodman’s goons Blade, Laser, and Blazer justify their existences just with those names. They have no importance or development in the rest of the movie (besides handing White a ball), but we’ll always remember them because of that joke. As for Fran, we’ll always remember that weird connection between her and Owen. Oh, and the guy she kills with a dodgeball upon her introduction.

Furthermore, Dodgeball has some of the best cameos of any movie ever produced. Hank Azaria, William Shatner, David Hasselhoff, Lance Armstrong, Gary Cole, Jason Bateman, Patton Oswalt (if you can catch that one), and of course, Chuck Norris. Each gets a brief, but memorable, chance to shine. Years from now, they’ll all still be remembered for those bit parts in Dodgeball.

Last on the list of major contributing factors to the movie’s success is, once again, White Goodman. White is the only one who does see everything that transpires as a comedy. He knows everything going on is ludicrous and, as in all things, he must become the center of it. He wants to be the funnyman so bad he ends up causing us to laugh at him instead of with him. Ben Stiller previously played a maniac fitness guru in the movie Heavyweights, but it’s only here, when he goes completely over-the-top crazy, that he really creates an iconic character. White Goodman is one of the funniest villains of the 21st Century, just for being so memorably misguided.

The important lesson to take from all this is that Dodgeball is the exception to the rule, not the standard. Just because they managed to make a funny movie with a poor script filled with lame jokes and slapstick does not mean every movie that follows that formula will succeed. 99% of the time, they fail horribly. 1% of the time we get something like Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. That title is more accurate than anyone would have ever guessed.

 

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