Before I dive into my review of ‘Dodgeball,’ I should warn you that I’m not a big fan of Ben Stiller. Watching ‘Meet the Parents’ was an excruciating exercise in patience, ‘Mystery Men’ left me with the overwhelming desire to write an angry letter, and the actor’s annoying expressions and sappy sentimentality made me want to turn off ‘Night at the Museum,’ despite my son’s insistence that we were watching a good movie. However, when Stiller is tossed into the shoes of a soulless egomaniac or a vengeful villain, I start to come around.
’Dodgeball’ tells the tale of a loveable bunch of ragtag losers who band together to prevent a massive company called GloboGym from buying their local training facility and transforming it into a trendy fitness club. With the help of professional Dodgeball legend Patches O’Houlihan (Rip Torn), sarcastic everyman Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) has to outsmart and outplay GloboGym’s owner and CEO, an arrogant dimwit named White Goodman (Ben Stiller). Peter must rely on the talents of his gym cohorts (a slew of wonderfully cast character actors including Justin Long, Alan Tudyk, and Stephen Root, to name a few), win the heart of a lawyer and Dodgeball natural (Christine Taylor), enter an official tournament with a sizeable cash prize, and score enough loot to buy the gym, keep its doors open, and ensure the word “GloboGym” doesn’t appear anywhere on the building.
For the most part, ‘Dodgeball’s success as a satirical comedy comes down to one thing: smart casting. Vaughn infuses enough likability in his character to elicit sympathy and good-natured laughs, but just enough cavalier self-interest to give his character an amusing arc. Likewise, Stiller launches himself over the top of over-the-top, cramming every disgusting leer and vile jab he can into Goodman. The result really sells the film’s setups and jokes -- even when Stiller is off camera, his presence makes every punchline hit that much harder. More importantly, the supporting actors are excellent. Justin Long transforms his clichéd cardboard youngster into a sweet and charming romantic, Veatch manages to walk a fine line between love interest and plot macguffin with effortless charm, and Tudyk manages to turn a man who believes he’s a pirate into an endearing addition to an already misfit-laden crew.
The other thing I enjoy about ‘Dodgeball’ is its clever construction. Instead of using gratuitous f-bombs and gross-out gags to nab sophomoric laughs, first time feature film director Rawson Marshall Thurber relies on traditional physical comedy, witty banter, and sly characterizations to earn his audience’s affections. The script is also sharper than you might expect, skewering sports broadcasting, corporate America, health trends, the fitness industry, and numerous other aspects of our culture. I’m certainly not trying to make the argument that ‘Dodgeball’ is a high-brow, academic comedy (it's not), but it doesn’t shy away from taking pot shots at numerous targets.
Is ‘Dodgeball’ a comedy classic? Some people have tried to make the argument, but pacing issues, a number of flat jokes, and two minutes of distracting unrated extensions prevent the film from being a personal favorite. Ah well, funny is funny and ‘Dodgeball’ offers a series of laughs that should give comedy fans something to enjoy in this wintery economic climate.
’Dodgeball’ arrives on Blu-ray with a colorful 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that looks much better than its DVD counterpart. Vibrant reds and yellows practically leap off the screen, skintones are warm and natural, and blacks (while not completely resolved to my satisfaction in every scene) are by and large very deep. The most noticeable improvement comes in the form of increased detail --textures are sharp, edges are well defined (without resorting to burdensome edge enhancement), and on-screen background text is clear and legible. There are a few soft shots here and there, but it’s always the result of the original print rather than a technical deficiency in the transfer. Better still, I didn’t detect any significant artifacting, banding, contrast wavering, or DNR, and the image appears to be a faithful representation of the film’s theatrical presentation.
The only major complaint I can drum up is that digital noise invaded a trio of low-light scenes, but it barely detracted from the overall experience. Ultimately, while it may not be reference quality, ‘Dodgeball’s video transfer is striking enough to satiate anyone’s appetite for high-def hilarity.
’Dodgeball’ features a fairly engrossing, yet predominately front-heavy DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that handles the film’s somewhat limited sound design with ease. However, while the track’s fidelity is impressive, consistency is a regular issue. Dialogue is crisp, clean, and nicely prioritized across the front of the soundstage, but rear speaker aggression is spotty, injecting healthy ambient and acoustic details into the soundfield one moment and very little the next. Likewise, LFE support is natural and weighty, but occasionally underwhelming when a scene suffers from lazy design and rather weak dynamics. Thankfully, the third act improves matters significantly as the film moves from the crew’s gymnasium to the spacious exhibition center -- the soundfield becomes more involving, the effects become more convincing, and there’s considerably more spatial realization than the opening sequences. It helps that pans remain smooth and directionality remains precise.
All in all, ‘Dodgeball’s lossless audio shouldn’t give fans much to complain about and even offers a noticeable upgrade over the film’s stodgy DVD Dolby Digital mix. More discerning audiophiles may raise their eyebrows every now and then, but this DTS HD MA experience sounds pretty good.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Dodgeball’ includes all of the significant supplemental material that appear on both the 2004 standard and 2005 Unrated Edition DVDs. While many of the features are hidden and a bit tough to track down (particularly one of the full-length audio commentaries), it’s still nice to know Fox dumped all the material it had somewhere on the disc. In the end, my only real complaint (putting aside the frustrating bonus feature access) is that all of the video content is still presented in 480p.
’Dodgeball’ combines smart casting with measured satire for a hilarious romp through the world of a professional schoolyard sport. The Blu-ray edition is a nice upgrade for DVD owners and includes an excellent video transfer, a relatively impressive DTS HD Master Audio surround track, and all of the special features that appeared on both previously-released DVDs. There isn’t a lot of supplemental content to speak of, but it’s nice to see Fox finally dropping every bonus they’ve got onto their Blu-ray discs. I would suggest giving this one a look.