09
Jan
09

Review: The Ringer

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Johnny Knoxville made a name for himself by acting like a retard in the small and big screen versions of Jackass, so consider The Ringer his comeuppance. Directed by Barry Blaustein (who also made the exceptional pro wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat) and executive-produced by gross-out comedy kings the Farrelly brothers, the movie takes a grueling amount of time to set up a simple premise: In a mountain of debt, nice guy Steve Barker (Knoxville) hesitantly agrees to masquerade as an athlete with a cognitive disability, thereby fixing the outcome of the Special Olympics. Steve takes on the persona of “highly functioning” competitor Jeffy Dahmor, whose attempted joke of a name only serves to point up the age of former Family Guy writer Ricky Blitt’s script. Blitt recently accused South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone of ripping off his idea—which he claims was pitched to them in 1999—for a 2004 episode in which Eric Cartman similarly attempts to defraud the Special Olympics. It seems odd, however, that the scripter would want to call attention to a 23-minute cartoon that is not only tighter than this hour-and-a-half dud, but also smarter and funnier. Produced, amazingly, with the cooperation of the real Special Olympics, The Ringer features several performers who are actually disabled, as well as a few actors who appear in, for lack of a better word, ’tardface. With the difference between laughing with and laughing at uncomfortably blurred, with dialogue full of awkward pauses, and with action that lacks any real sense of pacing, the movie would require a heroic effort from its star to succeed. But Knoxville, who so far has had only a few opportunities to prove that his acting ability extends beyond barfing on command, is in way over his head. Fans may rightly sense an almost Keaton-esque sadness to the man’s comedy, but here he’s given neither the opportunity to display the conflicting motivations his character is supposed to have nor the free rein to execute the outrageous pratfalls the story demands. In a scene perhaps all too emblematic of Knoxville’s post-Jackass career, Steve laments never having pursued his dream of acting by moving to Hollywood, to which another character responds, “You probably wouldn’t have made it, but you could have tried.” More important, though, some other people could have tried, too—starting with whichever Special Olympics flack decided this cheerless exploitation film is a “celebration of acceptance and diverse talents.”

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