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Thursday, June 17, 2004 01:42 pm

Movies Review

Dodge Ball/ Stepford Wives

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

Running time 1:30

Rated PG-13

Grade B

Parkway Pointe,
ShowPlace East

Dodgeball, the favorite sport of unprepared physical education teachers everywhere, has made something of a comeback with adults. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber mines that newfound interest in his debut feature, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, a mostly hit-and-miss comedy that revels in its own low expectations. The movie makes no bones about the fact that "dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion, and degradation," and much of the film's humor revolves around the crueler aspects of the game. Hate to say it, but seeing someone's face smashed in with a large rubber ball is a consistent laugh-getter and Thurber provides us with many face-smashing moments.

The film's story is centered on a national dodgeball championship that serves as a test of Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest. Although the strongest teams seem destined to win, a squad of lovable losers, led by slacker gym owner Peter Le Fleur (Vince Vaughn) who needs the $50,000 first prize to keep his business afloat, manages to weed out teams that appear superior on paper. Their ultimate opponent in the final round is led by Le Fleur's successful, but insecure business rival, White Goodman (Ben Stiller).

Though the film starts slow, it soon finds its footing and provides consistent laughs over the course of most of its brisk 90 minutes. An instructional movie on the ins-and-outs of dodgeball produced in the '30s with Nazi overtones is dead-on hilarious in its representation of that era's social structure, while Rip Torn as a sexist old pro who comes to coach Le Fleur's team steals every scene he's in.

Vaughn's laid-back approach is perfect here, yet it's the usually reliable Stiller who proves to be the weak link. Though Goodman's character is obviously broad, Stiller goes so far over-the-top that each joke and gag revolving around him becomes predictable and anti-climactic.

 

The Stepford Wives

Running time 1:33

Rated PG-13

Grade A-

Parkway Pointe,
ShowPlace East

Why remake a bad movie? Actually that makes more sense than tampering with a good one. Many bad films do have within them a germ of a good idea, but something misfired along the way to the big screen. The Stepford Wives (1975) is one of those failures that should have been better. Now with a major overhaul it is.

The original science-fiction thriller, based on a novel by Ira Levin (Rosemary's Baby), took a very somber, but deadly dull, approach to a metaphorically brilliant rendering of the battle of the sexes. The men of Stepford, unable to cope with their wives, replaced them with subservient robot versions. As Stanley Kubrick realized while writing Dr. Strangelove, the idea was inherently funny, and the best way to cut into the heart of the matter is by transforming the material into a full-blown satirical comedy.

Nicole Kidman, a vast improvement over Katherine Ross from the original, stars as Joanna, a high-powered television network president who suffers a mental breakdown after being fired. Her nebulous husband, Walter (Matthew Broderick), quits his underling job of vice-president at the same network, and he moves his family to the idyllic community of Stepford, Conn. Immediately the dynamic of their relationship is established. She is energetic and forceful, while he is a groveling nebbish. Walter fits into the community standards right away and is welcomed as a new member into the Stepford Men's Association, headed by the comically sinister Mike Wellington (Christopher Walken). Joanna, however, is a major problem as she thinks for herself, and she is hardly the image of the blonde submissive trophy wife. All she needs is a little run through the Female Improvement System to make everything perfect. The filmmakers knew they couldn't withhold the robot aspect of the plot, so they just have fun with it, particularly in a square dance scene which has Faith Hill spin completely out of control. They do offer some new twists in the conclusion, but one gaping plothole in the process is unfortunately overlooked.

The Stepford Wives is a comic gem, but its satirical approach is likely to confound some viewers. It has been labeled as anti-women, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The film is a celebration of independent women, and its true target is the conservative values of unenlightened men and their emotional inadequacies. Credit director Frank Oz and screenwriter Paul Rudnick for breathing new life into the old robot.

Around the World in 80 Days [PG]Jules Verne's novel gets another go, with Steve Coogan cast as Phileas Fogg, the adventurer who travels the globe in a hot-air balloon. The top-billed Jackie Chan co-stars as Fogg's sidekick, so expect some martial-arts action. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

The Chronicles of Riddick [PG-13]Vin Diesel returns in the sequel to his first hit, Pitch Black, as an escaped alien convict who can see in the dark. The story picks up five years later as Riddick becomes involved in a galactic war. "Mostly a ponderous chronicle." (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

 

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story [PG-13] Vince Vaughn leads a group of friends to a dodgeball competition in Las Vegas to save their favorite gym. Ben Stiller leads the corporate team. Reviewed this issue. Parkway Pointe,

ShowPlace East

Garfield [PG] The famous cartoon cat finally comes to the big screen in a mix of live action and CGI animation. Bill Murray seems the ideal choice to voice the cat with an attitude. "I sure wish someone remembered to change the litter box on this stinker before it was released." (Jeffrey Lyles, Maryland Gazette) Parkway Pointe,

ShowPlace East

Raising Helen [PG-13] After her sister and brother-in-law die in a car accident, a young woman (Kate Hudson) becomes the guardian of their three children. "The characters are clichéd, and their predicaments are familiar." (Jeff Strickler, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Parkway Pointe

Shrek 2 [PG] Princess Fiona's parents invite her and Shrek to dinner to celebrate her marriage, not realizing that the newlyweds are green ogres. "Shrek 2 brims with perverse pleasures that show no respect for the rules of kiddie-cartoon form." (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

 

The Stepford Wives [PG-13]Nicole Kidman stars in this remake of a mediocre 1970s science-fiction thriller about a suburban town whose female citizens are too perfect and very artificial. Reviewed this issue. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

 

The Terminal [PG-13] Tom Hanks stars in this Steven Spielberg romantic comedy as an Eastern European immigrant who is confined to an American airport after his country is ravaged by war. Catherine Zeta-Jones co-stars. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

White Chicks [PG-13] Marlon and Shawn Wayans star as a pair of bumbling FBI agents who volunteer to protect two rich heiresses, patterned after the Hilton sisters. Part of their plan is to pose as the girls -- in drag and white makeup. Older brother Keenen Ivory Wayans directed. Opens Wednesday