The Ringer (2005) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language, and some drug references
Running Time: 94 min.

Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Katherine Heigl, Brian Cox, Luis Avalos, Leonard Flowers
Director: Barry W. Blaustein
Screenplay: Ricky Blitt

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise to learn that The Ringer, a lowbrow comedy which makes fun of people that are mentally challenged while subversively championing their cause, would be a Farrelly Brothers (Stuck on You, Shallow Hal) production; they've virtually made a career out of building comedies around outcasts, geeks, nerds, fat people, amputees, and conjoined twins.

The premise of the film is that an ambitious office guy named Steve Barker (Knoxville, The Dukes of Hazzard) trying to move up the corporate ladder by becoming the axe-man for the company.  The first victim is the janitor, Stavi (Avalos, Hot Stuff), but Barker can't actually fire the guy that needs a job to feed his family, so he not only pays for him to mow his lawn, but gives him a nice raise as well.  Unfortunately, Steve can't get him any benefits, and sure enough, Stavi manages to lop off his fingers fiddling around with the mower, requiring pricy surgery to put them back on.  Feeling a sense of responsibility, Steve goes to his scumbag uncle Gary (Cox, Red Eye) to return some money he "borrowed", only to agree out of desperation to a farfetched idea by Gary to pretend to be a "special needs" participant in the Special Olympics in order to beat the reigning superstar, Jimmy (Flowers).  Gary's thug bookie readily takes him up on the bet, and so Steve finagles his way to becoming a Special Olympics athlete, now called "Jeffy", although things become complicated when he meets the girl of his dreams in one of the event volunteers, Lynn (Heigl, Romy and Michelle: In the Beginning), which he can't woo without blowing his cover.

Despite the fact that the Special Olympics board cleared the film as inoffensive to their organization and of special people in general, The Ringer still manages to offend anyone that enjoys good movies.  The problem with the film isn't even the subject matter, which some viewers will find lacking good taste to enjoy; the problem is that it all proceeds to go through predictable motions to its inevitable conclusion. Some people often refer to mentally challenged people as "slow", but that's really what the movie is, as it takes the film as a whole several minutes to finally show us what we've already expected to happen two scenes before.

Underneath all of the sitcom antics, there is an attempt to be cute and sincere, but with such a schlocky feel to the script, it all comes off as contrived and shallow.  While many in the supporting cast are actual people with disabilities, some of them are actually actors and comedians obviously pretending, and their portrayals are unflattering, overdone, and flat-out unfunny. 

Outside of the initial premise, the makers of The Ringer just don't seem to know where to go with the material except over the usual clichéd hurdles.  Despite the fact that they painted themselves into a corner with the epilogue, the feel-good intentions are impossible to swallow, as we not only have to believe that Steve wouldn't become a pariah of the community as a whole for what he has done, but that he would be embraced back from the people he used for his own purposes, including the most difficult to overcome obstacle of the potential of breaking through with Lynn as a would-be romantic partner.

Although many Farrelly Brothers fans are also "South Park" fans for similar reasons, the fact that the plot of The Ringer resembles an episode of the Stone/Parker creation, "Up the Down Steroid", drew many detractors to the film.  The makers of The Ringer maintain that their film had been in the pre-production stage for years, with filming already underway at the time the "South Park" episode aired, and that they themselves were the ones ripped off.  Regardless of who is stealing from whom, if anyone really is, why anyone would want credit for such a shallow, borderline-tasteless idea for a film is beyond my comprehension.

Qwipster's rating:

©2006 Vince Leo