Pressured by a greedy uncle (Brian Cox) and a pile of debt, loveable loser Steve Barker (Knoxville) resorts to an unthinkable, contemptible, just-crazy-enough-to-work scheme. He pretends to be mentally challenged to rig the upcoming Special Olympics and bring home the gold. But when Steve's fellow competitors get wise to the con, they inspire him to rise to the greatest challenge of all: becoming a better person.
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It's hard to believe this film is almost ten years old! I remember seeing it in theaters opening weekend and feeling the same way about it then as I do now. 'The Ringer' is charming and has a feel-good quality about it all, but the one big flaw in the film is that it's so predictable and paint-by-the numbers that you can predict the entire plot in the first few minutes. This was a project that tried to get made for a number of years and was always met with controversy over its subject matter of having a man pretend he was mentally disabled in order to compete in The Special Olympics to beat the other contestants for a cash prize. You can see how this might upset certain people.
But director Barry Blaustein (writer of 'Coming To America') and producers Peter and Bobby Farrelly decided to let The Special Olympics committee have final say and word on the script, thus 'The Ringer' was finally greenlit with 'Jackass' star Johnny Knoxville set to star. Now I'll be the first to say that Knoxville is very talented as a stuntman and actor. I've enjoyed everything he has been in, including this film, but his portrayal of someone who has a mental disability isn't good enough to make us believe that the other characters would be tricked into his scheme. It's more of an over-the-top silly performance rather than something real. But that being said, Knoxville is quite a joy to watch on-screen as his character Steve Barker is a very charming and redeemable man.
Barker works a job he hates, but he eventually receives a promotion. His friend and gardner Stavi (Luis Avalos), helps him out at home, but then he loses a few fingers in a lawn-mowing accident. Barker feels terrible about this and wants to pay for Stavi's surgery to reattach his fingers, but it will cost $28,000, money Barker doesn't have. Meanwhile, Barker's uncle Gary (Brian Cox), a degenerate gambler, owes money to some loan sharks to the tune of $40,000. While Uncle Gary is not insulting everything in his path, he devises a plan for Steve to enter The Special Olympics as a special needs contestant under the name Jeffy Dahmor.
Wanting to help his friend, Steve agrees to this charade and fools everyone on the committee, including the beautiful Lynn Sheridan (Katherine Heigl). Uncle Gary places a bet that the long-time Special Olympic Champion Jimmy, won't win this time around, thus guaranteeing his and Steve's big payout. Steve rooms with fellow contestants during his training and games, and they are quick to see that Steve is a fake. But instead of calling him out, they decide to help him beat Jimmy, due to Jimmy's horrible ego and lack of kindness to others. From here, the usual silly comedy aspects come in to play that you've seen one-thousand times before.
Steve becomes good friends with the other contestants, realizes his ways are wrong, and falls in love with the girl. We see montage after montage and awkward joke after awkward joke throughout its 94-minute runtime. The performances are all solid, with some real-life Special Olympic athletes showcasing their skills and genuine charisma. Brian Cox, as always, does a great job playing a a sloppy mess of a man, which musters up a few laughs.
This film was released before Katherine Heigl hit big with 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Knocked Up', and you can tell why she was so popular and fun for a few years here. And of course Johnny Knoxville is always fun to watch on-screen in his wacky adventures, but when he's not playing the normal Steve Barker, his character is too over-the-top to be taken seriously. 'The Ringer' is a charming enough film, but it's lack of originality or surprise would hinder replay viewings.
'The Ringer' comes with a great 1080p HD transfer presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This is a wonderful looking image with depth, crystal clear detail, and bright vibrant colors. The detail is always vivid and sharp with very fine closeups that show the actor's individual facial hairs, wrinkles, and makeup blemishes.
Textures show up very well in the uniforms and costumes. Wider shots provide good depth and almost never go soft. The colors are very vibrant, bright, and well-balanced. They seem to pop off the screen with great looking reds, yellows, and blues. Skin tones are always natural with black levels always running deep and inky. There were no instances of any banding, aliasing, or any other compression issues to speak of. This is an excellent video presentation.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix that is more front-heavy than I'd like to see. The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand. It's perfectly situated in the center channel and is free of any pops, cracks, or hissing. With the exception of some of Mark Mothersbaugh's score and music selections, not much flows from the rear speakers.
Sound effects and ambient noises might come through the front speakers, but rarely do they make an appearance through the rears. Needless to say, it doesn't fully immerse you in the action. That being said, the sound effects always sound realistic and strong, with the soundtrack never drowning out any dialogue. I just wish there was more use out of the rear speakers here. LFE is quite good with a wide dynamic range.
Audio Commentary - Johnny Knoxville, Barry Blaustein, Peter Farrelly, Ricky Blitt, Edward Barbanell, and John Taylor all chime in on this commentary track. This is a fun listen as the guys joke around and tell some amusing stories about one another during production. Don't expect a big technical commentary here, but you will get a few laughs.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 17 mins.) - There are a total of sixteen short deleted scenes with more laughs and alternate takes.
Let the Games Begin: A Look at 'The Ringer' (SD, 7 mins.) - The cast and crew along with Special Olympics tech advisor Jay Sartain discuss making the film, its origins, and why they decided to go through with the troubled production.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 mins.) - Trailer for the movie.
'The Ringer' is a charming movie with solid performances, but its predictability takes the surprise out of the entire film. There are a few laughs, but several aspects seem a bit over-the-top. While it manages to keep the pace up and muster up a few laughs, 'The Ringer' doesn't bode well for multiple viewings unless you're a huge Johnny Knoxville fan. The video presentation here is top notch with the audio having an average, but not memorable sound. The extras are slim, but fun. Rent this one before making a purchase.