My first impression of The Ringer, based on trailers, was that it would be a crass, nigh unwatchable piece of drivel making fun of people with handicaps. The trailer was largely centered around Johnny Knoxville, aping a mentally retarded person, saying "I like nuts!".
Then I caught snippets of interviews with Knoxville, as well as some reshot trailers, and I noted that there was a level of respect here. It didn't seem to be a huge level of respect. The promotional efforts still seemed concerned with slightly aping the subject. At this point I figured it might be a movie more like Shallow Hal, where it ends with a moral of not judging people but essentially has been an hour and half long fat joke.
When watching The Ringer, I made the self-promise that I would turn it off the moment it turned these people into a laughing stock. It is important to note that I watched it the whole way through. Though there are a few handicap-centered scenes staged for comedic effect, most of the humor is slapstick all around. Its pretty obvious why they wanted a Jackass to do the movie when you see take his dozenth pratfall or bar slam.
What I appreciated most about the movie is the fact that it both avoids the trap of making comedic freaks out of the athletes AND it avoids trying to shove a concept of how they are just the same as the rest of us down the audience's throat. The Ringer celebrates differences with demonizing them or making them into the "Ah, how brave!" sort of attachments.
If anything, it is the vehicle that this message travels in that detracts. This movie is nothing new if you have seen any romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller. The plotline is utterly tired. Generally goodhearted man does something moderately devious for a good, if idiotic reason. Meets beautifully souled girls next door who is currently engaged (why are they always engaged?) to a jerk (why is it that the jerks always cheat?). Either the guy or the girl has a secret, and the other one will react to it (normally overreact, but this IS a movie about a man cheating his way through the Special Olympics). The misunderstanding will be cleared up in the blink of an eye, in the last few minutes, and so on. It makes you wonder if Hollywood has a small bucket of plots that it draws from. "Oh, you have a movie showing how athletes in the Special Olympics have their own sort of fun? How about plot #7 to base it on?"
I will say that there was plot point I thought was telegraphed all the way throughout the movie and it turned out wasn't there. When the movie ended without it, it caught me off guard. I haven't seen any special features, so I don't know if it was intended to be there and was cut out, or what. For those interested, I include it in spoiler text, below.
!Spoiler text, highlight to read!
I was sure that Jimmy was going to be another faker. Not only are there certain shots that suggest that he breaks character, but there is this huge build up to Jimmy not winning and how the others feel about him. Apparently I was wrong, though.
!End Spoiler text!
Actually a funny and moderately heartwarming movie, despite its tired plot. I've volunteered in some Special Olympics activities in the past, and think I would like to do it again. I feel fully that if you come out of the movie thinking that it is doing nothing but mocking or insulting the athletes, that you are projecting it.
My score: 62.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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