Memories Of A Royal Canadian Air Farce Intern (Part One)

On December 31st, the party’s over.  After 15 years on the air, The Royal Canadian Air Farce is signing off for good.  An official announcement was made back on April Fool’s Day that the longtime sketch comedy troupe, a staple of CBC’s primetime line-up since 1993, would not be producing new shows beyond New Year’s Eve.  This means that the program’s sixteenth and final season will be uncharacteristically short.  By the end of the year, only 10 shows will have aired.  (Normally, 22 episodes make up a full season.)
 
Without a doubt, they will be missed.  They are responsible for producing some of the biggest laughs on Television.  But, more importantly, they are the most gracious, easygoing group of Canadians you’d ever want to meet.  How do I know this?  I was their intern once.
 
When I was a TV Broadcasting student at Mohawk College, like anybody else enrolled in the program, I needed a co-op placement in order to graduate.  However, there were problems.  I couldn’t decide where I wanted to go.  I wasn’t exactly rolling in dough.  I didn’t own a car which greatly limited my choices.  (I never did get my licence.  Too fearful.)  And, most importantly, there wasn’t a lot of time to make things happen.  With Christmas 1995 fast approaching, Mom suggested The Air Farce TV show at CBC.  Great idea.  (We both became fans of the show after stumbling upon it during a fateful channel surf back in ’93.)  The program was taped in Toronto, about an hour away from Hamilton, so distance wasn’t an issue.  Originally, my Aunt and Uncle, who live in Brampton, agreed to let me stay with them during my work term.  But while that gesture was appreciated, it turned out to be unnecessary.  I ended up taking the GO Bus to The Big Smoke and back home again every day during my placement. 
 
It took a while but after a couple rounds of phone tag, I finally managed to get a hold of the show’s personable Line Producer Laura Buchanan.  (Ken Johnstone, a CBC executive who visited our TV class to do a lecture and answer questions, gave me her number.)  I had faxed her an embarrasingly gushy letter hoping the show would take me on temporarily as their intern.  (I overemphasized that they didn’t have to pay me.)  They were up for it and I was relieved.
 
On Monday, February 26th, 1996, I began my four-week internship.  It marked the first time I’ve ever travelled to Toronto alone.  It’s an overwhelming experience being there.  You feel like such a tiny speck amongst these massive skyscrapers.  The show was expecting me at 10 a.m. but the Toronto Express GO Bus dropped me off at the corner of University and Wellington a little after 9.  (I didn’t want to be late on my first day so I made sure to get there ridiculously early.)  Not realizing that first day that the CBC building on Front St. was just a couple of blocks away from that first GO Bus stop, I ended up wandering around the city killing time.  The CITY-TV studios on Queen St. weren’t that far away and for the second time in my life, I had my say on Speakers Corner.  (The first time occurred back in 1991 during a music class trip to see The Phantom Of The Opera at Pantages.)  “For two minutes,” I later noted in my five-page report for school, “I praised the movie, Dead Man Walking and complained about it not being nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.  Also, I talked about my internship at CBC and even raved about the show I was going to work on:  the Royal Canadian Air Farce.”.  To say I was more than a little excited about all of this goes without saying.  By the way, I would love to know if any or all of my Speakers Corner silliness still exists on tape.  Who knows for sure if either of my two appearances ever aired or not?  I don’t remember ever seeing any of it.
 
Not too long after that, I made my way to Front St.  It was still too early but I had waited long enough. 
 
You know, it’s hard to miss the CBC studios.  The twelve-story building, admittedly, not the biggest piece of architecture in Toronto, is distinguishable thanks to all of these red crosses that cover every single window.  As I noted in my college report, “I’m sure someone has mistakenly walked in hoping to donate blood.”.
 
There are three entrances to the building:  one on Wellington, another on John and, of course, the Front St. entrance, which is how I made my way inside that sunny morning.  “[T]he first thing I noticed,” according to my report, “was this movable, rectangular sign that had the Royal Canadian Air Farce TV logo on it…”  Directly on the left were the security team.  Straight ahead were steps leading to the atrium which hosted the set of CBC’s 2008 Federal Election Coverage.  (TV doesn’t do it justice.  It’s an atmospheric location.)  There was a little variety store off to the right where I bought four issues of – what else? – Variety Magazine.  (I finally read all of them last year and they’ve since been recycled.)
 
I checked in with security and informed them of why I was there.  They asked me to sign my name “in this special book they had”.  Then, they gave me a “Visitor/Visiteur” sticker which I could only wear that day.  It went right on my sweater.  I still have it.
 
Employees of the Corporation are given these cards that allow them to get in and out of the building without any hassle.  They would swipe them on this security device that would let them pass freely through this turnstile.  Everybody else had to wait until the security people approved their presence and then manually turn off this security measure that was blocking their way.  All I had to do that day was show my pass and there wouldn’t be any problems.
 
Before they would let me through, I was instructed to take the burgundy elevators up to the eighth floor where the Air Farce offices were located.  Lisa Thomson, “one of the Program Co-ordinators who joined the show’s staff during its second season on CBC Television, was there to greet me,” I noted in my college report.  She was a short but lovely brunette who was very polite.  Only once did she ever have a problem with me.  (More on that later.)  We made small talk as we headed to the Air Farce offices.
 
The amazing thing about the staff on the show was their professionalism.  There wasn’t much gossiping, very rarely was there any inter-office hostility and no one ever had to be disciplined for troublemaking.  (Well, except me.  More on that later.)  If any of that stuff did happen, I never witnessed it.  For a satirical sketch series, there was a lot of warmth and affection.  Everyone I met on the show welcomed me aboard.  With the exception of this one obnoxious female intern (more on her later), they were all very nice.
 
When Lisa and I arrived, “the atmosphere…was surprisingly calm”, I wrote later in my report.  “Every few minutes or so, I would be introduced to these people and they would ask the usual questions like: ‘How long are you staying?’…’Where are you from?’…’What college are you attending?’…’What are your life ambitions?’…’Could you wash my car this afternoon?'”
 
I met with Laura Buchanan who handed me the Air Farce “Spring 1996 Calendar”.  It listed key events in the second half of the show’s third season.  The entry that caught my eye was the first one.  Right beside “Mon 26-Feb-96” were two items:  “Spring BBM [Bureau of Broadcasting Measurement] sweeps begin.” (They ended on March 23rd, the day after my last day on the show.) and “Intern Dennis Earl begins.”  Very cool.  Curiously, nowhere on the three-page calendar did it mention when my internship was to be concluded.  Maybe they were hoping to keep me on?
 
My first task that day was to look after the office recycling.  Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I grabbed the first blue box, it broke.  The sides just snapped off.  I laughed it off and went about my business.  Of all the tasks I performed during those four weeks, this was the only one I dreaded.  You see, on our floor, there was this giant blue box.  The moment you lifted the lid, there was this unbelievable stench.  Imagine every possible fruit juice flavour rolled into one deadly odour and that’s what it smelled like.  It doesn’t sound as unpleasant as the lingering malevolence of a fart but trust me, it was awful.  Every week, I recoiled in terror as I lifted that damn lid dumping all these empty water bottles, Diet Coke cans and fruit juice containers into this hideously evil contraption.  It was like Fear Factor.  Could I do this without hurling?  It turned out I could, but it wasn’t easy.
 
Much less arduous was my next assignment.  I was given a binder full of photos (the first of three they had on file) and was asked to label each one on a separate sheet of paper.  “In these binders,” I wrote in my report, “are magazine stills of political bigwigs, famous entertainers, sets of CBC shows and even photos of newsmakers like The Bobbitts, The Bernardos, etc.”  Because I wanted to make an impression, I spent far too much time writing out each name (there were over 100 in that first binder alone) as neatly as humanly possible.  Unfortunately, I misspelled Ron MacLean’s last name.  (I wrote “Mc” instead of “Mac”.  D’oh!)  That aside, everything looked perfect.  Looking back, why didn’t I just type out all the names?
 
It was an auspicious beginning to an enlightening firsthand experience working on a TV show.  And it was about to get a whole lot more entertaining.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, October 31, 2008
11:48 p.m.
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Published in: on October 31, 2008 at 11:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sun Believes “Classless” Harper “Best Choice” To Lead Canada

Last year, The Toronto Sun began publishing signed editorials.  For the first time in the tabloid’s history, readers knew which editorial board member wrote which editorial.  Actually, they weren’t called editorials anymore.  They were Points Of View.
 
However, things have changed yet again.  Sometime last year, unsigned editorials returned (they’re not called Points Of View any longer) but only on certain days of the week, most notably Sundays.  This brings us to the two most recent Toronto Sun Editorials.
 
Every time there’s an election, whether it’s a civic, provincial or national contest, newspaper editorial boards feel the need to endorse their candidate of choice.  The Toronto Sun is no exception.  In a shocking twist, with two days to go before the whole country goes to the polls, The Sun’s editorial board once again endorsed Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  (Honestly, have they ever picked anybody who isn’t a conservative?  According to this, even The Toronto Star Editorial Board, which is liberal, have not always been predictable with their endorsements.  Would you believe they preferred then-Conservative Leader Robert Stanfield to Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau not once but twice in 1972 and 1974, respectively?)
 
At any event, despite having reservations about Harper’s broken promises and utter indifference to the global financial crisis, among other complaints, the board, in an unsigned editorial, wrote:
 
“While we respect all the national party leaders, realistically, Canadians Tuesday must choose between Stephen Harper and Stephane Dion to lead us through tough economic times.
 
To us, the choice for prime minister is clear. It’s Harper.”
 
But wait.  Yesterday, Sun editorial writer Michael Den Tandt offered a very different view of The Prime Minister.  Headlined “Harper team a classless bunch”, his signed editorial strongly criticized The Conservatives’ campaign decision to highlight a recent taped interview Liberal Leader Stephane Dion gave to CTV.  I’ve not seen the interview myself, but Den Tandt opined that Dion “looks confused, almost dazed” in an outtake clip posted on YouTube.  He further notes, “He looks anything but prime ministerial.”
 
But then, Den Tandt writes this:  “But Stephen Harper?  He looks worse.”
 
How so?
 
“Dion messed up in a taped interview. For this, the Conservative campaign machine went into overdrive? For this, the prime minister delayed his flight, held an extraordinary news conference, as his people bent over backwards to ensure that reporters would see the clip of funny Professor Dion making an ass of himself?
 
News flash to the country and the world: Dion’s English is terrible!
 
Was anything else occurring in this country Thursday evening that might have occupied Harper’s reputedly gi-normous tactical brain? Um … let’s see … it’ll come to us in a moment … ah, yes. The global economy is collapsing. Banks around the world are petrified to lend money. Stock traders are in a blind panic. The entire world, to hear some financial experts tell it, is on the brink of another Great Depression.
 
But Harper’s overriding goal Thursday evening was to heap mockery on his chief opponent’s poor command of English. How tawdry, cheap and sad.”
 
Wow.  Den Tandt doesn’t stop there, however:
 
“Conservatives will say — they’re saying it already — that it wasn’t about schoolyard mockery at all. It was about Dion’s lack of an economic plan. He doesn’t have a plan. He’s in a dither. As prime minister he’d be a disaster.
 
What rot. This was a Hail Mary pass by a Conservative team desperate to deflect attention from Harper’s poor handling of the economic crisis as a campaign issue. Why not just gather all 308 Conservative candidates together in a big gymnasium and have them shout “gna-gna-gna!” at a big poster of Dion?”
 
The editorial ends thusly:
 
“Harper should be ashamed of himself.”
 
To be fair, today’s Sun editorial, the one that endorses Harper for Prime Minister, acknowledges the following:
 
“True, Harper failed to adapt his campaign to the sudden collapse of stock markets, the credit crunch and falling oil prices during this election.
 
That’s worrisome because part of the prime minister’s job is to rally and reassure the nation in times of crisis, not suggest a stock market crash means some good buying opportunities.”
 
Then, incredibly, they endorse Harper by saying this isn’t nearly as bad as Dion’s controversial carbon tax, as if that’s ever gonna be a reality considering how widely unpopular it is both in Canada and within The Liberal Party itself.
 
So, just to summarize, yesterday, The Conservatives were “desperate” and “classless” and thought attacking Dion’s English was more important than dealing with the faltering world economy which they haven’t done a good job of handling.  But today, they’re the “best choice” to lead Canada.
 
Yeah, that makes about as much sense as endorsing George W. Bush for U.S. President.  Twice.  Can’t wait for the “we prefer McCain” editorial.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 12, 2008
3:24 p.m.
Published in: on October 12, 2008 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

In Praise Of Rolling Stone’s McCain Expose

He called his second wife a “cunt” in plain view of reporters.  His high school nicknames were “Punk” and “McNasty”.  He graduated near the bottom of his class (894th out of 899 students).  He crashed several fighter planes while serving in the Navy.  He’s had a “volcanic temper” since he was a child.  When he doesn’t get his way, he can be vicious, particularly to women who turn down his advances.  For years, he has been a womanizing, boozing, self-absorbed jerk who always puts himself before his country.  And he’s not above changing his political positions for the sake of his own personal advancement.
 
This is the real John McCain, the one the media, for the most part, refuse to discuss.  All of these tidbits, some previously known, others shockingly new, are noted in a superb Rolling Stone cover story by Tim Wilkinson.  Entitled “Make Believe Maverick”, it’s an astounding piece of journalism.  For those eligible voters still unsure of who to vote for, if this doesn’t send you running into the Barack Obama camp, nothing will.  For those who still stubbornly support McCain, prepare to have your faith shattered, unless you’re too stubborn to see reason.
 
In paragraph after paragraph, the Republican Senator from Arizona comes across as a man with such serious character flaws that were it not for his nepotistic safety net there’s no question he would be nowhere in his life, not unlike President George W. Bush.  This is a fairly lengthy piece (10 Internet pages) but so thoroughly well written and fascinating that it’s worth savouring every word.  This is the best article about McCain I’ve ever read.
 
Of all the startling details discussed in the piece, there are two such moments that stand out the most.
 
Senator McCain loves to bring up his Vietnam experience, particularly the five and a half years he spent in captivity as a prisoner of war.  There’s no doubt he was tortured but his conduct has been less honourable than we’ve been led to believe.  Wilkinson mentions how American POWs are supposed to act in accordance to an “incredibly rigid” Code of Conduct.  Although “few soldiers lived up to its dictate that they ‘give no information . . . which might be harmful to my comrades,'” and are “bound to give only their name, rank, date of birth and service number — and to make no ‘statements disloyal to [America].”, according to Wilkinson, McCain was willing to offer his captors “military information if you will take me to the hospital” “[s]oon after” his aircraft “hit the ground in Hanoi”.
 
Furthermore, although he suffered greatly for two years, once the Vietnamese knew that “his father was a Navy admiral”, his torture ended.  How did they learn this vital bit of information?  According to Wilkinson, McCain told them.  That’s not all:
 
“Only two weeks after his capture, the North Vietnamese press issued a report — picked up by The New York Times — in which McCain was quoted as saying that the war was ‘moving to the advantage of North Vietnam and the United States appears to be isolated.’ He also provided the name of his ship, the number of raids he had flown, his squadron number and the target of his final raid.”
 
Then, there’s the famous story of how McCain could’ve come home early but refused to leave until all his comrades were released as well.  Not quite:
 
“What McCain glosses over is that accepting early release would have required him to make disloyal statements that would have violated the military’s Code of Conduct. If he had done so, he could have risked court-martial and an ignominious end to his military career.”
 
Besides, as a fellow POW told Wilkinson, “Many of us were given this offer…[but] I, like numerous others, refused…John allows the media to make him out to be the hero POW, which he knows is absolutely not true, to further his political goals…John was just one of about 600 guys. He was nothing unusual. He was just another POW.”
 
Then, there’s the story that Wilkinson tells at the start of his article.  It’s 1974.  McCain is back in Washington, D.C., a free man.  He has a conversation with John Dramesi, “an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was also imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam.”.  Dramesi, who McCain described as “one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met”, was the opposite of McCain in terms of military service:
 
“There’s a distance between the two men that belies their shared experience in North Vietnam — call it an honor gap. Like many American POWs, McCain broke down under torture and offered a ‘confession’ to his North Vietnamese captors. Dramesi, in contrast, attempted two daring escapes. For the second he was brutalized for a month with daily torture sessions that nearly killed him. His partner in the escape, Lt. Col. Ed Atterberry, didn’t survive the mistreatment. But Dramesi never said a disloyal word, and for his heroism was awarded two Air Force Crosses, one of the service’s highest distinctions.”
 
Back to 1974: 
 
“McCain is studying at the National War College, a prestigious graduate program he had to pull strings with the Secretary of the Navy to get into. Dramesi is enrolled, on his own merit, at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in the building next door.
 
On the grounds between the two brick colleges, the chitchat between the scion of four-star admirals and the son of a prizefighter turns to their academic travels; both colleges sponsor a trip abroad for young officers to network with military and political leaders in a distant corner of the globe.

‘I’m going to the Middle East,’ Dramesi says. ‘Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iran.’

‘Why are you going to the Middle East?’ McCain asks, dismissively.

‘It’s a place we’re probably going to have some problems,’ Dramesi says.

‘Why? Where are you going to, John?’

‘Oh, I’m going to Rio.’

‘What the hell are you going to Rio for?’

McCain, a married father of three, shrugs.

I got a better chance of getting laid.'”

Does that sound like someone who puts their “Country First”?

 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, October 9, 2008
3:45 p.m.
Published in: on October 9, 2008 at 3:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Price Hike Last Straw For Sun Readers?

What will it take to alienate Toronto Sun readers for good?  Dropping numerous employees without much fanfare didn’t do it.  Quietly firing the paper’s Readership Editor Alison Downie didn’t do it.  Dropping the TV Guide from The Sunday Sun in areas outside Toronto this year didn’t do it.  Reducing the amount of original content in the print edition didn’t do it.  Continuing to offer a regular forum for dishonest writers like Michael Coren and Salim Mansur didn’t do it.
 
Maybe this will.  That’s right.  You’re paying $1.57 for your weekday Sun now ($2.50 plus tax for The Sunday Sun). 
 
If that’s not a big “fuck you” from Quebecor to the tabloid’s readership, I don’t know what is.
 
Regular visitors of this site will remember the numerous Sun Media pieces we offered between December 2006 and November 2007.  (Check them out in the Sun Media/Sun TV section.)  That was during a time when I was still either reading the print edition and/or visiting the paper’s official website on a regular basis.
 
Now, I don’t read the newspaper at all and can go weeks and even months sometimes without checking out a single item on the website.  It’s a sad state of affairs.  I used to look forward to reading what Val Gibson had to say about sexual matters and Bill Brioux’s funny and entertaining coverage of the TV beat.  (Thankfully, he’s now a busy freelancer who also finds time to blog.  As an aside, he deserves a lot of credit for the recent Sherri Woodstock concert being a reality.)  The late Sherri Wood did a nice job covering the club scene and doing various entertainment pieces.  (Her sunny appearances on Sun TV are sadly missed, as well.)  Rachel Giese was one of the few credible political columnists worth being loyal to.  Although Jim Slotek, Eric Margolis and Greg Weston, all good writers, are still with the tabloid, their work aside, it’s hard to warrant much enthusiasm for anything else in the paper.  That’s not terribly fair of me to say.  As with any newspaper, there are plenty of talented, hardworking reporters who produce stories the public hungers for and needs.  But with some of my favourite columnists no longer associated with The Sun, I can’t stay loyal to a publication that doesn’t stand by its talent.
 
John Cosway, The Toronto Sun Family blogger who noted the price hike last month, still has affection for the tabloid despite some strong criticisms:
 
“Sun readers being asked for $1.50, plus tax, as of today have to decide if the return on their daily investment through stories, columns, ads and other features, is adequate.

As mentioned in a previous posting, contributions of the old guard still make the Sun a good buy at $1.50, plus tax. The Sun has lost its edge as a tabloid, but still has its moments.

We could do without:

The 40-word leads;

Earlier deadlines at the expense of sports scores, concert reviews and late-night breaking news;

Those two and three-page special reports that belong in broadsheet newspapers, not a tabloid;

The numerous annoying throws to exclusive content on torontosun.com.

And while the heart of the Sun under Quebecor has all but vanished, along with a large number of employees, there are occasions when the Sun of old shines through.”

 
But is a shell of a newspaper worth a 50% price increase to The Sun’s remaining readership?  And furthermore, how much more bullshit can they take from a corporation that never gave a damn about them in the first place?
 
Time will tell.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
10:54 p.m.
 
UPDATE:  John Cosway has commented on this piece here.  Over the last couple of months, he’s been writing about The Sun’s revamped website as well as its new “e-edition”.  (More on the latter subject here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Regarding the website, at first, he was quite enthusiastic about the new look, despite some criticisms.  Then, his enthusiasm dampened significantly.  I mention all of this because Cosway makes a point of noting in his “Re Dennis Earl” piece that the tabloid’s Internet ventures, particularly its $4.99-a-month electronic edition, will be the determining factor in whether or not The Sun will survive outside its core readership in Toronto:
 
“Our feeling is the future of the print edition beyond the GTA will be determined not by price, but by the demand for the new online e-edition subscription service.

If the e numbers satisfy advertisers – and it is clear advertisers, not the needs of readers, motivate Quebecor – why bother catering to print readers in the 519, 705 and 905?”

 
That’s a very good argument.  But, of course, this all depends on how many readers have the option of permanently switching from print to the Internet in the first place.  For older readers who do have regular access to an online computer but are not accustomed to reading all their news on a monitor in a single sitting, depending on how much time they spend doing this, eye strain is likely to become a major concern.  And for those who prefer the print edition, will it be acceptable to them to pay over 30 bucks a month at the newsstand (if they buy the daily on a regular basis), I don’t know what the current subscription rate is, when the electronic version is a sixth of that price?  Which leads to two other important questions.  Is the e edition exactly the same as the print version?  If not, when will it be?
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
3:34 p.m.
Published in: on October 7, 2008 at 10:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

A skinny guy gets squashed by a fat girl.  A guy in a wheelchair throws wrenches at people.  Another guy gets hit by a couple of cars.  Throw in plenty of shots to the groin, head and body, not to mention a pair of electrocuted nipples, and you’d be forgiven for thinking I was describing a Quentin Tarantino movie.
 
It’s the inevitable question that pops up after seeing Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story:  is pain funny?  Yes, it certainly can be.  Remember that scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark when Indiana Jones disposes of a blade-wielding baddie with a simple shotgun blast?  Or how about that moment in Robocop when that perp hurts his foot kicking our hero right in his metallic groin?  As with anything to do with the movies, it all comes down to context and execution, so to speak.
 
That explains partly why Dodgeball is such a disappointment.  Its endless barrage of physical gags are more painful than funny.  The other problem is its mostly predictable storyline.
 
Peter La Fleur (an uneven Vince Vaughn) is having a very bad day.  His dog wakes him up in an inappropriate manner, his utilities are about to be turned off (he’s five months behind in his payments), his car is so run down that he can only drive it for a short distance before depending on the kindness of strangers for a little extra push, and he’ll lose his business, Average Joe’s Gym, if he doesn’t pay $50000 in unpaid bills within 30 days.  When you’re lackadaisical about collecting membership fees from your misfit customers, what do you expect?
 
Speaking of which, these are some uninspired characters.  There’s Gordon (Stephen Root), an obscure sports enthusiast on his second marriage to a mail order bride who hates him; Owen (Joel Moore from Grandma’s Boy), who can’t get a date; Justin (Justin Long), the aspiring high school cheerleader desperately in love with an unattainable babe who is unsurprisingly and conveniently dating a jerk; Dwight (Chris Williams), the obligatory black guy; and Steve (Alan Tudyk from TV’s Firefly), a delusional twit who dresses and behaves like a pirate.  To say we could care less about them is redundant.  They’re walking stereotypes.
 
When Peter gathers them together to deliver the bad news, Owen suggests a car wash to raise the money.  Unfortunately, on the day of their fundraising venture, some hot babes across the street are doing their own car wash.  In bikinis.  Needless to say, it’s back to square one.
 
While commiserating over their failure, Gordon remembers something.  There was an ad in Obscure Sports Quarterly Magazine (he’s a devoted reader) promoting a dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas that caught his eye.  The grand prize is $50000.  (How convenient.)  Only one problem.  None of them have played the game before nor do they know the rules.  How is this possible?  Did they all get an exemption from gym?
 
At any event, Justin steals an old instructional film from his high school which features a young Patches O’Houlihan (Hank Azaria), a legend of the sport, explaining all they need to know.  Not too long afterward, they meet the sometimes funny Rip Torn who plays the character as an old, cantankerous, wheelchair-confined sadist.  Here’s where the painful stuff takes over the movie.
 
His idea of training these sad sacks is, well, sadistic.  "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball," he says with a straight face.  Guess what happens.  Oh, and "if you can dodge a car…". 
 
Wait, there’s more.  Gordon has a problem getting in touch with his anger.  Patches slugs him in the nuts.  Speaking of balls, every character learns the hard way why the majority hated playing this barbaric game in school.
 
Meanwhile, White Goodman (a hit-and-miss Ben Stiller) is a former fattie turned successfully slimmed down businessman who runs Globo Gym right next door to Average Joe’s.  He’s constantly fighting his urge to overeat (he so loves pizza that he wants to have intercourse with it) and might be the most socially awkward bodybuilder I’ve ever seen.  If you look up "overcompensation" in the dictionary, you’ll see his picture.  To prove my point, I offer two words:  penis pump.  He also says the dumbest things.  Example:  "No one makes me bleed my own blood!  Nobody!"
 
For some perplexing reason, he wants to take over Peter’s business.  (It’s not exactly a threat to his bottom line.)  The lovely Christine Taylor plays Kate, a lawyer hired by Goodman’s bank to examine Peter’s business records and to oversee the possible transition.  There’s a funny scene where Goodman repulses her so much with his "courting" that she literally throws up a little in her mouth.  The fact that Taylor and Stiller are a happily married couple offscreen makes this all the more amusing.
 
Meanwhile, Peter’s team keeps practising with Patches for an upcoming regional qualifier.  Goodman, for his part, puts together a team of his own.  Somehow, a hidden camera strategically placed behind the eyes of his cardboard likeness finds its way into Average Joe’s.  (Hmm.)  Besides observing their hapless training sessions, Goodman realizes that Kate has a secret talent.  He soon fires her which serves two purposes:  1) It allows him the freedom to pursue her (much to her steadfast revulsion) and 2) She can now join Peter’s team.
 
It doesn’t take too much brainpower to figure out what will happen next.  Both teams will end up in the final.  (Guess who wins.)  It’ll look bleak at one point but predictably, an infraction will be belatedly spotted allowing the match to continue.  Peter and Kate, an unconvincing romantic pairing, will grow gradually closer (although there is a funny twist about that, I must admit).  Gordon will reach his boiling point.  Justin will have his chance with Amber the cheerleader.  Owen will find love.  And Goodman will gain back all that weight he lost which inspires a hilarious YouTube parody during the closing credits.
 
I can accept a predictable story with underwritten characters as long as the laughs are loud and continuous.  That’s not the case with Dodgeball.  Like Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy and Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, this movie has some outright hilarious moments.  To see a certain America’s Got Talent judge lashing out at the German dodgeball team after they’re eliminated from the tournament is the funniest moment in the movie.  There’s another great cameo involving a famous athlete, Gary Cole and the seriously underrated Jason Bateman have their moments as unlikely ESPN commentators (although we could be spared some of the grosser, and quite frankly, dumber quips), and there’s some other funny one-liners sprinkled here and there.  But many of the gags, including the other cameos, fall flat.  (Just because you can get a certain famous face to do an unbilled walk-on, that doesn’t mean you don’t give him something strong to work with.)  They’re either too painful, too mean, too stupid, too disgusting or too obvious. 
 
About the somewhat predictable ending, parts of it don’t make a lot of sense.  If a certain character makes a pivotal decision before The Big Game and then, reverses that decision only to reveal that all along he didn’t have any doubts whatsoever, why the inconsistency in the first place?  And isn’t gambling on your own team’s performance illegal?
 
Dodgeball is very much a traditional underdog story not unlike Police Academy, Revenge Of The Nerds and countless others.  It’s certainly funnier than those aforementioned disasters but that’s not saying much.  Within the first 20 minutes, you know where it’s going and you don’t care.  Vince Vaughn can be a funny actor when given good material (he has occasionally good lines here) but he lacks charm and we’re not always sure whether he actually cares for his teammates or is just humouring them.
 
Stiller and Taylor are the best performers here, even though some of the former’s dialogue would make even the Zucker Brothers wince.  It’s too bad.  When Dodgeball is funny, it can be riotously so.  When it’s not, it’s deader than The Republican Party.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
3:29 p.m.
Published in: on October 7, 2008 at 3:27 pm  Leave a Comment