When I said that I wished Hollywood would start coming up with more original stories I never expected (or frankly wanted) a movie about a guy who fixes the Special Olympics for profit. If the script hadn’t been sculpted to get the good graces of the athletic organization it would be the kind of story not even Broken Lizard would be willing to tackle. However, throw in a super positive take on every sensitive issue that comes up or turn it into a somewhat tasteful (and occasionally funny) joke and you’ve got a movie that doesn’t draw protests but won’t draw much acclaim either.
When your plot circulates around someone who’s supposed to be a nice guy yet is willing to pose as a developmentally disabled person to rig the Special Olympics, he’d better have a darn good reason for doing it. The Ringer doesn’t seem too worried about that though, choosing to make the excuse more of a running gag than anything else. Steve Barker (Johnny Knoxville) is such a nice guy that he can’t bring himself to fire Mr. Stavi, the janitor at the office where he works. Instead he promises the guy $400 a week with health benefits to mow his lawn.
Of course, there are no such benefits and on the first day of work Mr. Stavi unwittingly succeeds in slicing off three of his fingers with the mower. When Steve has to come up with $28,000 to have Mr. Stavi’s fingers reattached, he turns to his shady Uncle Gary (Brian Cox) for help. Gary comes up with the brilliant plan to have his nephew pose in the Special Olympics and then arranges a bet on the final race to win money. Isn’t anyone willing to sell a kidney on the black market anymore?
The plot setup sounds like something from an Adam Sandler vehicle and I imagine they might have approached him to do it if the part weren’t custom fit to Johnny Knoxville’s background. Apart from his many other embarrassments Steve also endures a water balloon to the groin, a series of dog bites to the butt, several prat falls on a slippery floor and an eight foot fall from a ladder. Who better than the star of “Jackass” to play take all that abuse? Apart from being able to take the punishment, Knoxville seems totally out his element playing the straight-laced guy. Cox, on the other hand, seems right at home in his role, which is a little disturbing given that he’s playing the most bigoted, soulless rat conceivable. Maybe that’s why they fired him from voicing Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia? C’mon folks, it’s why they call it acting.
The rest of the cast is mostly an ensemble of actors playing developmentally disabled athletes. Some are a little better at it than others at it, because some of them are actors pretending to be disabled. Kind of ironic isn’t it? The supporting cast gets most of the good gags and a few of those lines had the theater more than chuckling. With its PG-13 rating the movie definitely gets its mileage out of the one allotted used of the “f” word. Apparently there’s something funny about hearing a person with a mental disability shouting obscenities. On the other hand, there’s nothing funny about a bunch of out of shape guys doing the Full Monty dance routine in a sauna. Even if they are wearing towels there are some things I just don’t want to see.
The Ringer’s biggest problem lies in how much time it spends tip toeing around its shaky comedy, taking every possible opportunity to clarify that it’s not trying to insult anyone. Well, no one associated with the Special Olympics anyway. Everyone else from janitors to priests is fair game and they take the real low blows of the film. As a result everything from the humor to the drama gets watered down and the story’s romance comes across as awkward at best. In the end it’s the cinematic equivalent of a flag rugby game. Nobody gets hurt, it doesn’t make sense, and no one has any real fun either. It’s a bad idea for a movie that somehow flew under the radar, got made anyway and, lucky for Brian Cox, will likely be quickly forgotten.