Barry W Blaustein
The Farrelly Brothers have managed to offend most minorities. Fat people,old people, um, conjoined twins, so it comes as no surprise that they haveexec-produced The Ringer, a new comedy which sets its sights on offendingpeople with learning disabilities.
But an even bigger surprise is that thefilm, a comedy about rigging the Special Olympics, has been given theofficial backing by the actual Special Olympics. So who’s the joke really on,then?
Steve (Johnny Knoxville) becomes addicted to self-help tapes and ends updemanding a promotion from his boss. His boss concedes and tells him hisfirst job is to fire the janitor, Steve’s friend. But Steve instead hireshim to mow his lawn in guilt, giving him a raise from his own salary. Butafter an accident the janitor loses his fingers and Steve is unable to paythe medical bills. Steve’s Uncle Gary (Brian Cox) is also in need of somemoney. He owes a long past due loan to the mob. He comes up with a’brilliant’ plan to rig the special Olympics. He is going to make Steveenter and win, because as he’s the only non-disabled contender he’ll surelywin right?
The Ringer is a troubling film. It’s never quite clear where the film’sloyalties lie. It starts out as amusing enough and moves along at a goodpace, the joke quota nicely tuned. There are some risqu jokes and thefilmmakers seem to be aiming for edgy humour. It’s surprising at just howfunny the film is. But as it progresses, it makes an importantand jarring shift.
The focus shifts and begins to almost berate us for laughing atwhat we may have laughed at before. There is an overwhelming and nauseatingsentimentality which reigns in the finale and there is even a sickeningmusical number performed by the other athletes. It’s all about why they deservemore respect and it feels uncomfortably tagged on and deliberately aimedat the audience. It’s as if the writer has suddenly had a guilt trip forthe jokes he made earlier on and is trying to redeem himself.
While many of the jokes are well written, the film also relies on way toomany shots of Knoxville falling over or being involved in other pratfalls.It’s a lazy form of comedy and dumbs down any message the film was hoping todeliver. Johnny Knoxville isn’t a very experienced actor and it’s actuallyunclear when he’s pretending to be a special athlete and when he’s simplybeing himself. Brian Cox is excellent and it’s a shame he doesn’t have morescreen time.
The film should be admired for using actors who actually have learningdisabilities and in that respect does carry a certain air of authenticity.You can see, especially near the end, why it would be given the blessing ofthe Special Olympics. It’s just a shame that a film which starts off with arefreshingly dark and amoral idea soon softens and becomes a little toonice. Nothing that happens proves surprising, and it’s difficult to care about the central romance but, for the most, The Ringer is agood deal funnier than other recent mainstream comedies.