The Ringer (2005)

Review

The Ringer

A recent Associated Press story detailed how Peter and Bobby Farrelly gave the Special Olympics full script approval for The Ringer, their new comedy about a well-intentioned loser (Johnny Knoxville) who impersonates a mentally challenged person in order to win the Special Olympics and score some much-needed cash.

‘I wanted this movie out there,’ Peter Farrelly told the AP. ‘It’s very funny, but I also saw the potential for changing people’s perceptions of people with intellectual disabilities.’

Farrelly has it partially right. The Ringer paints the mentally challenged — represented by 150 disabled actors and athletes — as skilled athletes and funny, downright lovable human beings. The movie takes great pains not to paint them as charity cases or maudlin tokens, which I’m sure is a big source of pride for Farrelly, a longtime volunteer with Best Buddies, a mentoring program for people with intellectual disabilities.

What The Ringer isn’t, is funny, a weird thing to write considering these are the same guys behind Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary. Even with professional goofball Knoxville in the lead. Or with the invaluable Brian Cox, who as Knoxville’s cigar-chomping, loser of an uncle is pure comedy gold. The movie is too busy being nice and uplifting to bother satirizing or making fun of anything or anyone. When Knoxville, doing his best Cliff Robertson-in-Charly impression, goes from schemer to advocate, the movie becomes an endless public service announcement.

I admire the Farrelly Brothers for getting this movie made, which, according to the AP, took seven years to happen. Part of me questions their logic. If they wanted to make a feel-good movie, a documentary or drama would seem to be the smarter approach. A comedy is bound to fail when those you should be mocking are above reproach, and your goofball comedic lead is forced to go well outside his acting range. Are we sure these are the same guys who ripped the Amish a new one and give new meaning to the phrase ‘franks and beans?’

By getting The Ringer into theaters, the Farrellys — who God knows have taken enough flak over Fever Pitch and other recent projects — have urged that the mentally challenged not be treated any differently by mainstream media. I agree, but by endorsing a marshmallow script that takes no risks with the material at hand, they may have encouraged the same old behavior to continue.

The DVD includes 16 deleted scenes, a featurette about the Special Olympics (with message from the Chairman of the organization), a making-of featurette, and an audio commentary.

Where’s the Indian?