“I’ve done something very bad,” says The
Ringer’s Johnny Knoxville, beginning
his confession to a priest.
Johnny, don’t be so hard on yourself.
Fox Searchlight’s The Ringer probably isn’t
close to the worst movie of the year. At times, the film is playful
and sweet and it makes the goony Knoxville come off as a real, genuine
person, an admirable feat. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as offensive
as I thought it would be. For a comedy with the Farrelly
stamp however, that might not be such a good thing.
How does a jackass like Knoxville become a competitor in the Special
Olympics? Knoxville stars as milquetoast Steve who, through a series
of not-so-funny events, has to wrangle together the cash to help
out his omni-ethnic friend and gardener Stavi sew his fingers back
on. The answer to his problems lies in his sleazeball Uncle Gary
(Cox). To solve both his and Steve’s financial
problems, Gary decides that Steve should compete in the Special
Olympics and dethrone the current pentathlon champ, Jimmy. Steve’s
qualifications? He ran track in high school.
Before watching the film, I was surprised to learn that not only
had the Special Olympics given their blessing to the film, but that
executive producer Tim Shriver is the Chairman
of the Board of the Special Olympics and son of founder Sargent
Shriver. Indeed, that information tempered my misgivings
about the subject.
Those misgivings were also tempered by the fact that as I watched
the movie I realized that while it was not all that funny, the film
had a warm feel to it. The Olympians were portrayed in a much more
humanizing and sympathetic light than I would have gathered from
the trailers. The whole film screamed, “See! They’re
just like us!” While this is somewhat of a pandering sentiment,
it probably is one that is important for the audience to realize.
As for the film’s aims to be 2005’s signature tasteless
comedy, I don’t know if this humanitarian mindset helps the
film accomplish its goals.
On some level it was heartening that most of the jokes were not
at the athletes’ expense. The jokes were primarily at the
expense of Knoxville and his asshole uncle. Moreover, it appeared
that the jokes that poked fun at the Special Olympics and its competitors
were lighthearted. They seemed to be in on the joke and enjoying
Knoxville does a good job of shedding his daredevil, frat-boy persona.
He comes off as a decent person who realizes that his actions are
wrong. Also, when paired with Cox or any of his newfound Special
Olympics friends, Knoxville is quite funny.
Heigl is beautiful and charming, but her part
reeks of the obligatory love interest. Sometimes I wish silly comedies
would get rid of these subplots. They tend to take away from the
comedy and drag on a bit.
At some points in this movie I wished the filmmakers would let
loose. Good comedies of this vein are built on an anarchic spirit,
and I got the feeling that the people involved with this film were
holding back. Director Barry Blaustein is partly
to blame for this. He doesn’t seem to know when to capitalize
on a joke or a gag and build on it, nor does he seem to know how
to give a movie a satisfying ending. In short, his product is not
nearly as funny as the films the producers Bobby and Peter Farrelly
have come up with in the past. The controversial subject matter
is there, but the Farrelly’s marvelous lack of taste is nowhere
to be found. Maybe the film’s subject is too delicate to let
filmmakers fully exploit it.
As a humanizing and sensitive message, The Ringer is
fairly successful. As a comedy, it just isn’t funny enough.