There are two types of Ben Stiller film: conventional comedies, such as Along Came Polly and absurd comedies, like Starsky & Hutch. Dodgeball, a film which barely registers that one of its main characters thinks he’s a pirate, sits squarely in the latter category.
Although Stiller dominates the film, Vince Vaughn takes the lead role. He plays Pete La Fleur, the owner of Average Joe’s gym, who is so laid back that he doesn’t even bother to collect fees from the five misfits that comprise his membership.
As a result, the gym is in danger of being taken over by White Goodman (played by Stiller) who runs Globo Gym, a corporate outfit which urges customers to hate themselves in order to change. Pete has to raise $50,000 to ensure Average Joe’s survival, and so enters the national Dodgeball champtionship, with Goodman as his main rival. The ownership of the gym will ultimately be decided by whoever wins the championship.
Sounds ridiculous? Well of course it is, and that’s precisely why it’s so funny. One of the team’s training methods is to dodge traffic on a motorway. In their first match, the championship rules somehow oblige them to wear S & M outfits.
As well as being absurd, this is also a shamelessly lowbrow film. This is an asset for the most part, assuming you like slapstick, although it does lead to a few crass moments: in a film whose message is one of self-acceptance, the fat jokes seem misjudged.
Vaughn is charming, in a tricky role requiring him to play completely straight, while everything around him is insane. Stiller is at his tightly-wound best, although he gets too much screen time for what is a fairly one-dimensional part.
However these are minor quibbles, as this is a hilarious comedy in the Saturday Night Live tradition – as broad as Happy Gilmore, and as funny as Starsky & Hutch. Dodgeball should not be missed.