December 29, 2005

Movie Review: The Ringer

Johnny Knoxville pretending to be mentally disabled in order to fix the Special Olympics? This had bad taste written all over it. I thought the trailers looked hilarious, and Knoxville looked like he could play a rather convincing Special Olympian. However, I just feared that it would end up being a little too mean spirited. Well, I went to see it anyway, and I am happy to report that it is not like that at all. Not to mention, it has been given approval from the Special Olympics!

The Ringer had moments of laugh out loud hilarity and an overall feeling of respect for those who are mentally challenged. The story is thin and survives on the, believe it or not, the strength of Johnny Knoxville to make this guy sympathetic.

The setup is simple. Knoxville is Steve, a low level clerk hoping for more. One day he asks for more responsibility, and actually gets it, but his first job is to fire the kindly janitor, Stavi. He can't do it, instead hiring him on himself. One freak accident later and Steve finds himself in need of a large sum of money in a short period of time. Enter Uncle Gary, played by Brian Cox, a gambler with debts of his own. Uncle Gary pulls from Steve's dream of being an actor and hatches this plan to fix the competition. Of course, nothing goes as it should. But to go further into the plot would be going to far.

The comedy comes primarily at the expense of Knoxville's character. I really liked how those with disabilities weren't treated like idiots. Comedy in this arena is a very fine line, it could too easily cross that line into the territory of the mean spirited, fortunately it never does. The cast is made of a mix of actors pretending to be challenged and those who actually are, either way you will believe, and come to care about these men and women.

The movie is no classic by any stretch, and is not without its flaws. It fails in bringing all of the threads to a satisfying conclusion. Also, the non-challenged Knoxville, and the rest for that matter, don't seem to connect all that well. Overall, the writing could have been a bit stronger.

The film was produced by the Farrelly Brothers, who did a good job in choosing the material but probably would have been better off writing and directing it themselves. They may not be the best filmmakers, but I think they would have been able to imbue a little more heart into the proceedings. The film was directed by Barry W. Blaustein, whose only previous directorial effort was the excellent wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat, he has spent most of his career as a screenwriter for films like Boomerang and The Nutty Professor. It was written by Ricky Blitt, of Family Guy fame, who does a good job balancing the comedy, but not so well at giving it the heart it needed.

The Ringer has also made me think a bit about Johnny Knoxville's career. The guy is a pretty good comedic talent. He pulls off both the physical slapstick, and verbal timing. I'm not saying that he is the greatest comedian on the screen, but his rise has been interesting. For a guy who did stupid stunts and masterminded Jackass as a way to get noticed, leave it at the height of it's popularity and get parts in films like Men in Black II, Walking Tall, and The Dukes of Hazzard, is something else. I actually hope he does well as his career goes on.

Bottomline. The bottomline is that this is a surprisingly funny and respectful comedy, the likes of which I was not expecting. Granted, the comedy is lowbrow, but it is not insulting to the cause. Knoxville does a good job leading the cast, although many scenes are stolen by his mentally challenged co-stars. This is a flat out fun movie.



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