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THE RINGER

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Johnny Knoxville, Brian Cox, Katherine Heigl, Luis Avalos
Director:  Barry W. Blaustein
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1; Pan & Scan 1.33:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  94 Minutes
Release Date:  May 16, 2006

“We stopped off for ice cream.”

“When the f**k did we get ice cream?!”

Film ***

The Ringer is a strange but effective comedy…one that really walks the edge of extremely poor taste, but somehow manages to find just enough heart to keep from tumbling into the abyss.  It’s from the mind of the Farrelly Brothers, who don’t direct this time but serve as producers, and frankly, nobody else but them could have taken this material and made it work.

The film stars Johnny Knoxville as Steve Barker.  At the opening, he’s hoping to advance in his company through the use of some aggressive self-help tapes.  He gets a promotion, but has to fire the janitor Stavi (Avalos) as a result.  Feeling guilty, he hires Stavi to do his yard.  Then Stavi cuts off his fingers with a lawn mower.  With me so far?

Good.  Enter Steve’s gambling uncle Gary (Cox).  He owes his bookies a lot of money.  Steve wants to raise $28 grand to pay for Stavi’s finger operation.  Gary comes up with an idea:  fix the Special Olympics.  After all, Steve was a good track athlete in high school, and an actor to boot.

Steve reluctantly agrees, assuming the character of Jeffy Dahmor (don’t ask), and enters the event to compete against a Special Olympian who’s won the last five gold medals (“he’s the Deion Sanders of retards”, one fellow remarks). 

But his fellow Olympians aren’t so easily fooled.  They may have problems, but they can smell a faker.  And then there’s the gorgeous helper Lynn (Heigl), who is really taken by “Jeffy’s” spirit, but how can Steve possibly make it work given the role he has to play?

I admit, when I first heard about this movie, I thought it was an extremely distasteful idea.  I was prepared to hate it.  Yet it works in ways that I can’t fully explain.  Maybe it’s because the movie doesn’t have laughs at the expense of the challenged…in fact, we learn, as does Steve, that these are some of the most capable, big-hearted and sharp guys around.  Steve may play dumb, but in the end, he’s a whole lot smarter for the experience.

And it’s funny.  I laughed a lot, even though for most of the film I tried to tell myself NOT to laugh.  I gave up on that about the halfway point.  The script works, as does the physical comedy.  I’m still not sure about Johnny Knoxville.  He’s likeable, but I don’t yet know if he has what it takes to carry a movie.  His performance has heart, but he frequently comes across as though he’s trying to hard.  I miss the loveable Jackass, not this fellow who wants to please far too badly.

I’m now faced with the prospect of offering this offbeat film the recommendation I never thought I would give.  But I have to be honest.  It’s wrong in many ways, but right in so many others. 

BONUS TRIVIA I:  This movie was given approval by the real Special Olympics.

BONUS TRIVIA II:  Listen for the voice of Jesse Ventura in the opening stretch!

Video ***

You have a choice of anamorphic widescreen or pan & scan versions…you should opt for the widescreen, because many of the sporting events don’t work when they’re chopped up.  The colors and detail level are good throughout, but cinematography isn’t really the picture’s forefront.

Audio ***

The 5.1 audio is quite good, with some of the events getting a boost from the surround channels.  Dynamic range is pretty strong, and spoken words are clean and clear.

Features ***

The disc features an entertaining commentary track with director Barry W. Blaustein, stars Johnny Knoxville, Edward Barbanell and John Taylor, producer Peter Farrelly, and writer Ricky Blitt.  It’s a hoot the way the other guys all gang up on Knoxville.

There are also 16 deleted scenes, featurettes on the film and the real Special Olympics, and a message from the Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver.

Summary:

A movie about a guy pretending to be retarded to fix the Special Olympics…good Lord, how can that possibly work?  But work it does.  The Ringer has plentiful laughs and a big heart to boot.

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