Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) is the owner of “Average Joe’s,” a small and financially disastrous gym with a handful of loyal but non paying members. When the gym’s mortgage slips into default, the mortgage is purchased by his competitor White Goodman (Ben Stiller), a fitness “sage” and owner of the successful behemoth Globo-Gym across the way. Average Joe’s has to raise $50,000 in thirty days to redeem the gym’s mortgage otherwise it will become an auxiliary parking garage for Globo-Gym. Attorney Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor (Stiller’s real Wife)) is working on the transaction for White who unsuccessfully attempts to charm her, and she instead develops a rapport with the Average Joe crowd while reviewing its financial records.
Average Joe’s employees Dwight (Chris Williams) and Owen (Joel David Moore) and members Steve “the Pirate” (Alan Tudyk), Justin (Justin Long), and Gordon (Stephen Root) initially try to raise the $50,000 with a carwash, but actually lose money in that endeavor. Gordon reads in Obscure Sports Quarterly about the annual dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas with a $50,000 prize. The Average Joe crowd bands together and to get a feel for the game, watch a 1950s-era training video narrated by dodgeball legend “Patches” O’Houlihan (in the 50’s film played by Hank Azaria). Despite watching this black and white reel to reel instructional movie, Average Joe’s is whipped by a Girl Scout troop in the qualifying match, however, due to steroid use by the Scout team, Average Joe’s win by default.
Enter Rip Torn. Aging and wheelchair-bound Patches (Rip Torn) approaches Peter and declares himself the new team coach. Patches’ has a tough training regimen that includes throwing wrenches, dodging oncoming cars and consistently berating them with outrageous insults. Kate demonstrates skill at the game and eventually joins the team and is branded a “lesbian” by Patched et al.
Patches unique training methods pay off as Average Joe’s manages to advance to the final round against Globo-Gym. The night before the match, Patches is killed by a falling sign in the casino. The untimely death is a heavy blow to the team and fear is in the air. In a moment of weakness, White offers Peter $100,000 for the deed to Average Joe’s which Peter accepts and then tries to skip town. As fate would have it, Peter runs into Lance Armstrong at the airport—who has been following the tournament on ESPN’s 8 “The Ocho,” and expresses his hope that Peter & Co. beat Globo-Gym. Peter confesses to Armstrong that he is quitting and Armstrong wishes him well and hopes that this incident does not haunt Peter for the rest of his life. Peter decides to play but arrives too late as Average Joe’s has already forfeited. Gordon finds a loophole in the rules that can overturn the forfeiture by vote of the judges, and (thank you) Chuck Norris casts the tie-breaking vote to allow the team to play.
After a fierce game, Peter and White face off in a sudden death match to determine the winner. Inspired by a vision of Patches, Peter blindfolds himself and is able to dodge White’s throw and strike him, winning the championship and the prize money and Peter opens youth dodgeball classes at Average Joe’s, while White becomes morbidly obese by drowning his sorrows in junk food.
Like I said in the title, without Torn as Patches, this movie would not be half as funny as it is. There is no way I am going to sit here and tell you that this movie is for everybody and I’m sure many highbrow types will see it as a juvenile. Cameos from Hasselhoff, Norris, Shatner and Lance Armstrong are all amusing and, just like Best in Show, commentators Gary Cole and Jason Bateman do great job as second rate sports analysts and have some great lines between them.
Rip Torn was the main reason I looked forward to this film, and after it was over my anticipation was vindicated. If only this movie were about his character “Patches O’Houlihan,” then it would unquestionably deserve its large success. Pretty much everything involving Patches works extremely well; and works for both the Hank Azaria and the Rip Torn versions of the character. In fact Torn has some of the greatest comedy and dialogue bits I have seen in some time. “No, but I do it anyway because it’s sterile and I like the taste” or “You’ve got to grab it [Dodgeball] by its haunches and hump it into submission.”
While more original than most, you do know the ending before it happens, the savvy watcher evens knows most of the jokes and the dialog was probably written as a prequel to most of the comedies of the relatively recent past. As I have said before, Hollywood ran out of ideas around the mid-Nineties and has to look to its successful past to get “new” material for the future by repackaging them for an unassuming public. The worst part of my analysis is that most of the viewing public is ignorant of this scheme and seem to resign themselves to such a fate by not investigating older movies and truly comedic films that deserve their money and attention. Which is what we here at JPFmovies are all about.
Despite my mixed review and general bitching, I do like this movie—mainly because of Rip Torn.