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THE RINGER (PG-13) (2005)

Fox Searchlight

Official Site

Director: Barry W. Blaustein

Producers: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Bradley Thomas, John Jacobs

Written by: Ricky Blitt

Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Katherine Heigl, Brian Cox, Jed Rees, Bill Chott


“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 themselves.

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.

—Rachel Mehendale

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