The Ringer review by Mike Long

As I'm fairly certain that there's no Pulitzer Prize in my future, I tend to not got very deep or serious in my reviews. ("You're kidding?!", I can hear you saying sarcastically.) But, I'm afraid that I'll have to go that way with my review for The Ringer. The ultimate goal of the film is to break down the stereotypes surrounding people with disabilities . And the goal of this review will be to break down the stereotypes of a movie in which Johnny Knoxville infiltrates the Special Olympics. As with the athletes themselves, there's more to the movie than meets the eye.

Knoxville stars in The Ringer as Steve Barker, a consummate nice guy who, through an incredibly convoluted series of events (which I won’t go into here), suddenly finds himself in need of $28,000 in order to aid a friend. Steve turns to his uncle Gary (Brian Cox), a low-life gambler, for some money. After learning that a bookie to whom he owes a great deal of money is interested in the Special Olympics, Gary decides that he and Steve can fix the games and have Steve impersonate an athlete. If the favored athlete (Leonard Flowers) loses, Gary will win $100,000. Steve is reluctant at first, but he decides that he will do it to help his friend, and enters the games under the name “Jeffy”.

When Steve arrives at the Special Olympics, he finds that he has to live with the other athletes, including Billy (Edward Barbanell), Glen (Jed Rees), Rudy (John Taylor), Mark (Leonard Earl Howze), Winston (Geoffrey Arrend), and Thomas (Bill Chott). Steve is immediately convinced that his cover will be blown. Things get even tougher for Steve when he meets Lynn (Katherine Heigl), one of the event coordinators. As Steve gets involved in the games, he begins to understand the athletes and have feelings for Lynn, and he must decide how long he can keep up the charade.

It’s a natural reaction: When one hears the words Johnny Knoxville and Special Olympics together, one can’t help but flinch. What is the man who made a living having people throw things at him going to do around people with disabilities? And now add the notorious Farrelly Brothers to the mix. Oh, did I mention that the writer came from Family Guy. The result should be the most insulting movie ever made. However, the movie is surprisingly gentle, sweet, and funny.

Ricky Blitt’s script doesn’t focus on the disabilities of the characters with disabilities. In fact, they are rarely mentioned. The story focuses on the people as people, and their limitations never come into play. The movie never makes fun of the mentally challenged characters, and it actually lampoons the sad lives of Steve and Gary instead. The Ringer never stoops to “Movie of the Week” dramatics and the characters are meant to be pitied. Aside from the film’s opening, which presents a situation which would stymie the writers of The Simpsons, the script is clever and there’s a nice twist around the 40-minute mark which takes the story in a different direction.

Once you realize that the movie won’t be the most embarrassing thing ever made, The Ringer reveals itself to be a funny movie. As one would expect, there is some slapstick and pratfalls from Knoxville. And given the fact that the Farrelly’s are involved in the movie, there’s not much in the way of “potty humor”. Actually, most of the humor comes from clever lines and bizarre dialogue. And not just from Knoxville -- every character gets in on the act. While the movie is consistently humorous throughout, there is one moment in the film where Geoffrey Arrend drops a line (which we learn from the commentary was ad-libbed) which is one of the funniest things that I’ve heard in a movie in a long time. I seriously giggled for ten minutes over this and had tears running down my face. Like a CD that you purchase for that one good song, I can recommend that some of you see The Ringer simply for that one scene.

As The Ringer was actually endorsed by Special Olympics, it’s not entirely surprising that it’s a pretty competent movie. The actors, both professionals and athletes recruited for the movie, are all good, and only Johnny Knoxville looks amateurish at times. It’s rare to find a laugh-out-loud comedy which has a positive message, but The Ringer manages this stunt. The movie will make you laugh and possibly open your mind at the same time.

The Ringer crosses the finish line to DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks OK, as the picture is sharp and for the most part, clear. There is some minor grain on the image at times, but there are no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, most notably the greens and reds. But, there is some noticeable artifcating at work here and the backgrounds seems to shimmer like crazy at times. Likewise, the flesh tones look very waxy. The DVD carries a serviceable Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Music reproduction is fine and the musical cues fills the speakers. Surround sound effects are mostly limited to crowd noise.

The Ringer DVD has a few extra features. We start with an audio commentary featuring director Barry Blaustein, writer Ricky Blitt, producer Peter Farrelly, and actors Johnny Knoxville, Edward Barbanell, and John Taylor. This is an engaging commentary as the speakers crack jokes and talk about the serious nature of the film. They do a good job of engaging Barbanell and Taylor by asking them questions about the production of the film, but this can often steer the conversation away from on-screen comments. The DVD contains 16 Deleted Scenes which encompass 19 minutes. Some were taken from an oddly framed work print, making them difficult to watch. These scenes reveal two subplots where Steve is nearly exposed. “Let the Games Begin: A Look at The Ringer“ (7 minutes) isn’t your typical featurette, as it focuses solely on the challenge of making the film and the work which went into making it a positive experience. There are additional features highlighting the real Special Olympics.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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