Rawson Marshall Thurber is one lucky guy. The writer and director of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story got the job on the strength of a four-minute short film, Terry Tate, Office Linebacker, and his feature debut stars comedy heavyweights Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, boasts a plethora of celebrity cameos, and has a big push from a major studio as a high-profile summer movie.
So is this 29-year-old phenom worth all the attention? Yes and no. Dodgeball is a genial, amusing film, but it's not laugh-out-loud funny and it's certainly not particularly original. Most of its appeal rests not on Thurber's creative skills but on the charisma of its two main performers, frequent collaborators who have a relaxed chemistry and plenty of improvisational skill.
They also have a tendency to play similar characters over and over again, and in Dodgeball they offer variations on two of their favorites. Vaughn plays the lovable loser who refuses to grow up, just as he did in Old School and his breakthrough role in Swingers. He's Peter LaFleur, a laid-back guy who owns a neighborhood gym called Average Joe's. The patrons are a motley crew, and Peter treats them more like friends than customers. That comes back to haunt him when lawyer Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor) shows up and tells him that the bank is going to foreclose on the gym if Peter can't come up with $50,000 in a month.
Ready to buy the gym is White Goodman (Stiller), the obnoxious owner of the Globo Gym chain and Peter's old enemy, for reasons never really explained. Stiller's smarmy asshole role is not as common as his bumbling loser role, but it's still a fairly familiar weapon in his arsenal. White is disturbingly buff and cluelessly arrogant, and he's determined to put Peter out of business at any cost. To win the money needed to save the gym, Peter and his band of misfits enter a dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas, and of course end up playing against White's team of over-muscled he-men (and one he-woman).
Thurber throws in plenty of shots of people getting hit in the head, testicles and various other body parts by red rubber balls, but it's his subtle humor, full of obscure references, that more often hits the mark. Fans of Stiller and Vaughn's past work (especially their past work together) will find enough to laugh at, but otherwise the film is stuffed with stereotypes and clichés. Despite his inexperience, Thurber apparently knows just how to make the perfect stupid summer movie.