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Dodgeball - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

BEN Stiller has been enjoying something of a prolific year thus far. Having enjoyed chart-topping success with Along Came Polly and Starsky and Hutch (not to mention Envy and the upcoming Meet The Fockers), he now sits on top of the pile with sports comedy, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.

The film co-stars Vince Vaughn (Old School/Swingers) and picks up as corporate workout centre, Globo Gym, moves into a small town, prompting the locally owned fitness centre, Average Joe's, to lose so much business that its manager, Peter (Vaughn), can't make the mortgage payment.

Faced with going under, the team from Joe's decides to enter a high-stakes dodgeball competition, in which they face Globo Gym's Purple Cobras, led by White Goodman (Stiller).

The ensuing comedy is said to contain lots of puerile gags and plenty of footage of people getting hit in the face and the groin with dodgeballs which, according to director, Rawson Marshall Thurber, is ‘always funny, no matter how many times you see iy’.

US critics seemed to have been mostly of the same opinion, crediting Stiller and the ever-popular Vaughn with delivering another comedy gem, and helping it to the top of the US Box Office, when it opened over the June 18 weekend (2004), despite strong competition from Steven Spielberg-Tom Hanks romantic comedy, The Terminal.

Indeed, such was Dodgeball’s winning appeal, that it easily outplayed the Spielberg movie, taking $30 million worth of tickets in its opening weekend, as opposed to The Terminal’s $18.7.

Its performance even surprised Bruce Snyder, of distributor 20th Century Fox, who would have been content with merely matching the film’s production costs.

He declared it was ‘huge beyond expectations’ and said it showed that people ‘were ready to laugh again’.

It also had the honour of knocking Harry Potter’s latest movie from the top spot.

So what did the US critics think?

The New York Times led the positive reviews, stating that ‘Ben Stiller plays a pumped-up fitness guru in a consistently funny sports spoof that unapologetically roots for the über-nerds’.

While the Chicago Sun-Times observed that ‘Globo is owned by Ben Stiller, overacting to the point of apoplexy as White Goodman; his manic performance is consistently funny’.

The Denver Rocky Mountain News, meanwhile, declared that it ‘aims low - and happily hits its target’.

Variety decided that it ‘gleefully commingles slapstick and scatology, satire and sentiment, in a free-wheeling farce aimed at making auds laugh until they're thoroughly ashamed of themselves’.

While the New York Daily News felt that ‘Stiller creates a perfect storm of body, facial and vocal _expression for every line of dialogue, and you have to admire his co-players for merely maintaining their balance against the bluster’.

And the Washington Post opined that ‘Thurber makes you forget convention and enjoy a genuine yukfest, full of down-and-dirty (but funny) gags and one-liners, and memorable scenes’.

Not everyone was convinced, however. The New York Post felt that it ‘reeks of desperation from the start, resorting way too often to the Funniest Home Videos-style spectacle of people getting hit in the crotch with red rubber balls’.

While the San Francisco Chronicle lamented: "Yes, the movie's watchable, and there are about six good laughs in it, but six good (not great) laughs in 90 minutes is pretty paltry for a comedy."

The Toronto Star, meanwhile, felt that it ‘eventually falls prey to its own stupidity (including far too many homophobic jokes), and to a surprisingly lacklustre performance by Vince Vaughn’.

And USA Today wrote: "From the same generic mind-set that could just as easily have given us Major League: Concession Stand comes what seems like the 11th Ben Stiller comedy this year."

But the final word goes to the San Jose Mercury News, which concluded: "Some movies are funny because they’re smart, while other movies are equally funny because they’re dumb. More rarely, movies are funny because they involve watching enormous wrenches being hurled at people’s groins."

But then what else could you expect from a film, which bears the poster tagline: "Grab life by the ball"?

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