• Ringer, The



    Released by: Fox
    Released on: 5/16/2006
    Retail Price: $29.99
    Director: Barry Blaustein
    Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Brian Cox, Katherine Heigel, Mohammed Ahmed
    Year: 2005
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    The Movie:

    The tagline for The Ringer, ‘Only a Jackass would try to rig the Special Olympics’ and the accompanying poster art showing Johnny Knoxville with a helmet on appeared to promise highjinks galore. Having proven himself to be fearless enough to do whatever was required for a laugh along with his cohorots on MTV’s long running Jackass television show, it would be tough to find a performer better suited than he to play the role of Steve Barker, a man who finds himself in a hot spot and in need of some quick cash when a guy he hires to take care of his lawn accidently mows his fingers off.

    With no one else to turn to, Steve gets in touch with his Uncle Gary (Brian Cox) who is, unfortunately, also in a tight spot and about to get into some deep do-do with the mob if he doesn’t pay off his gambling debts. Together they come up with an idea where Steve will pretend to be a mentally handicapped athlete and work his way into the Special Olympics, where, not being technically mentally handicapped, he’ll have a sure advantage over his competition. Gary, in turn, will bet everything he’s got on Steve, who is a shoe in for whatever events he decides to compete in.

    It isn’t long before the mentally handicapped competitors figure out that Steve isn’t on their level, but rather than expose them, they decide to help him win, as they’re tired of always losing to the reigning chamption, a challenged jock named Jimmy Washington. Hilarity supposedly ensues…

    The setup for The Ringer was brilliant, and it looked to be the perfect vehicle for Knoxville who, love him or hate him, can be really damn funny when he wants to be. There are moments in here where yes, he does get some laughs but unfortunately most of the movie is tame, far too tame for its premise or its star. Casting Knoxville alongside actual athletes from the Special Olympics probably should have been funnier than it was but instead it plays things too safe, it takes no risks, and is as inoffensive and clean as any other PG rated comedy. The film is filled with cliché after cliché throughout, from the training sequences to the feel good ending, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before in other sports comedies about the underdog getting his due. On the other hand, the story conflicts with itself in that all of a sudden a guy lying and taking advantage of mentally handicapped people is the good guy – we’re supposed to laugh at him when he impersonates his teammates but if the message is tolerance or to treat them as equals (which at its heart it seems to be) should this really be funny? The whole thing just doesn’t work. Knoxville gets laughs from the physical comedy in the story a few times but that’s about it.

    It’ll be interesting to see where director Barry Blaustein goes from here. He’s written plenty of comedy, good and bad, ranging from a few episodes of Saturday Night Live to Nutty Professor II: The Clumps. He’s a self proclaimed sports nut, and his documentary, Beyond The Mat, was one of the best sports documentaries of the last two decades. You’d think that with his knack for comedic timing and his love of atheltic competition that The Ringer would have been great, but again, when the film is so tepid, it’s hard to enjoy it for any specific reason as it does nothing to differentiate itself from the herd. Casting mentally handicapped people in real roles doesn’t make it a good movie, nor does it make it all that daring (Jodorowsky did it years before and there were probably people before him who did the same thing, Todd Browning’s Freaks might count).

    Tying the film in to Blaustein’s best known work, the excellent wrestling documentary Beyond The Mat, is a fun cameo appearance from the one and only Terry Funk, who shows up briefly to play a cronie out to collect on some money owed. Those who listen carefully will also note that Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura’s voice can be heard as the motivational speaker playing early on in the movie.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of The Ringer looks excellent on this DVD. The color reproduction is dead on, the black levels stay deep but don't bury any of the fine detail and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts to report on. Some edge enhancement and aliasing shows up in a couple of scenes but otherwise there's little to complain about here. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and there's a very pleasing level of both foreground and background detail present throughout the image. There's no print damage or heavy grain to complain about, and for the most part, this transfer is very strong. A fullscreen version of the film is also included, but if you watch that, you’re a sucker.

    The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix isn't bad, and at times it is even exceptional. Dialogue is clean and clear and the levels are well balanced but the surround channels don't get that much of a work out save for a few key scenes during the actual Olympic events in which you’ll pick up on some keen crowd noise and some cool background music. Either way, it sounds good, it's just that the mix isn't as involving as maybe it should have been. An alternate language Spanish dub is included in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, as are English and French subtitles and an English closed captioning option.

    Director Barry Blaustein is joined by his screenwriter Ricky Blitt, producer Peter Farrelly and actors Johnny Knoxville, Edward Barbanell and John Taylor for a rather chaotic audio commentary track. There are a few too many spots where the participants talk over one another which is a little bit frustrating at times. That being said, there’s also a lot of good natured humor in here and a lot of fun joking around. This makes for a commentary track that is actually, at times, funnier than the movie being discussed. Highlights include working with mentally handicapped actors and the challenges that can provide, trying to get the script up to snuff, and how some of the casting was decided upon.

    Sixteen deleted scenes running roughly twenty minutes in length are up next, presented here unfinished and with time code stamped on the bottom of the widescreen image. Most of these are extensions of what we see in the film and were trimmed for pacing reasons from the looks of things, as they don’t really include anything of genuine interest.

    Three featurettes are also included, the first of which is the seven minute Let The Games Begin which is a collection of brief, basic interviews with the cast of the film and a few of the crew members as well. It’s promotional in nature and not particularly revelatory but there are a couple of fun little stories in here if you want to sit through it. The second featurette, The Special Olympics, is a little more interesting in that it is roughly three minutes worth of footage from various events that, when put together as they are here, give us a very quick overview of the history of the games and how they came about. The third featurette is a two minute piece entitled A Message From Tim Shriver in which the chairman of the Special Olympics talks about why these games were created and what the goals of the committee who put it all together were when they came up with the idea.

    The Final Word:

    While the movie isn’t nearly as funny as it could have been or should have been, it does have a few moments that make it worth a look. The Ringer is no classic, but it’s an okay time killer if nothing else, particularly if you’re a Johnny Knoxville fan. Fox has done a nice job on the DVD however, as it looks good and sounds nice too.