Ben Stiller as White Goodman in the movie 'Dodgeball'. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

Remember to dodge, dip, duck, dive, and dodge. Tune in to ESPN8 The Ocho. And be sure to thank Chuck Norris. 

Happy 20th anniversary to Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. One of the greatest sports comedies ever was released on June 18, 2004. This razor-sharp satire starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn skewered sports, gym culture, broadcasting, and sports movies.

Few films can keep you laughing for 90 minutes. Dodgeball starts strong and continues to pelt the audience with an unrelenting salvo of jokes. So much so that upon rewatching, you’ll re-discover quips and one-liners you’ve forgotten. Dodgeball represents a total commitment to the bit by the actors and writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber. It’s often crude, sometimes clunky, but also hilarious.

Dodgeball kept the story simple and let most of its talented cast be the funniest versions of themselves. Everything you need to know about the plot happens early. Plus, the surprising cameos fit seamlessly into the story. Dodgeball could have felt like a bloated version of a mediocre Saturday Night Live sketch. Instead, it remains a cultural touchpoint.

Most sports movies are a typical underdog story. Dodgeball takes us on that familiar journey but makes it considerably more entertaining. Peter LaFleur (Vaughn) is an unmotivated owner of a gym (Average Joe’s) in foreclosure. White Goodman (Stiller) is a successful owner of Globo Gym who plans to buy out Average Joe’s and demolish it to make way for a parking lot for his business. The only way Peter can stop White is to come up with $50,000, which he doesn’t have.

When one of his gym members comes up with the ridiculous idea of entering a national dodgeball tournament with a $50,000 cash prize, we are off and running. No more explanations are necessary. We’re ready to enjoy the ride. The actor who makes it the most enjoyable is Stiller who has never been funnier. His character is a spoof of toxic masculinity dialed up to maximum volume. Everything he says is awful and offensive, but the audience is in on the joke. We cannot help but laugh at his exaggerated sense of self and warped perception of the world.

Stiller delivers each line with such conviction. It’s a terrific comic performance. One of the best scenes occurs when his character is rejected by Kate, played by Stiller’s real-life wife Christine Taylor. She slams White’s face into a wall, and White responds: “It is over between us, Kate. Nobody makes me bleed my own blood—nobody!”

In stark contrast, Vaughn’s performance is more muted. It’s a curious decision in retrospect and very different from his previous roles. Vaughn is best known for his swagger in Swingers, Old School, and Wedding Crashers. In Dodgeball, Peter has so little ambition that you wonder how much he cares about his gym, its members, and his friends. Perhaps that was a conscious decision to make Stiller’s White stand out more and give Vaughn’s Peter a redemption arc.

We’re rooting for Average Joe’s, but Peter is an ambiguous hero. This pays off with one of the most remarkable cameos in comedy history. Depending on your point of view, Lance Armstrong’s appearance has either aged terribly or unexpectedly wonderfully. When Dodgeball was filmed, Armstrong was America’s greatest athlete, winning five of his seven Tour de France titles.

The Lance Armstrong we knew then is very different from the Lance Armstrong we know now. He received a lifetime ban for doping in 2012 and is viewed as a disgraced champion who cheated his way to success. Since the ban, some have argued that watching Armstong’s presence ruined Dodgeball. Others could counter that his motivational speech to Peter now seems funnier, especially since earlier in the movie, Average Joe’s first victory as a dodgeball team was due to forfeit because an opposing player tested positive for banned substances.

Your experience watching Armstrong’s scene may vary. Cringe if you want. Howl with laughter if you prefer.

While Stiller and Vaughn have the most screen time, the supporting roles lift Dodgeball to another level. Rip Torn, as legendary dodgeball coach Patches O’Houlihan, brings an energy and ferociousness that few possess. The late actor, who made a career out of playing likable jerks, is cast perfectly. His character is a mockery of the dictator coach with a heart of gold we so often see in films.

The other standout is Jason Bateman as TV analyst Pepper Brooks. He is hysterical as the stereotype of a former jock who just jumped into the broadcast booth. Bateman works extraordinarily well with Gary Cole, who is in more of a straight-man role as play-by-play commentator Cotton McKnight. Cole sets up the jokes (“I’m being told that Average Joe’s does not have enough players and will be forfeiting the championship match.”). Bateman finishes them off (“It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for ’em.”). That quote is now a meme.

Dodgeball was a box-office hit. On a budget of $20 million, it grossed $168 million worldwide.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote: “This masterpiece of modern cinema depends upon a single truism: A guy getting hit in the nuts a hundred times in a row is funny a hundred times.”

As with any comedy filmed two decades ago, some things would not be done today. Dodgeball has fat-shaming and homophobic jokes. However, the pop-culture impact of the movie cannot be denied.

ESPN has occasionally temporarily rebranded as the ESPN8 “The Ocho,” broadcasting obscure sports like dodgeball, knife-throwing, cheese-rolling, catfish noodling, lawnmower races, and lightsaber fights. If that isn’t enough to satisfy you, you’re in luck. A Dodgeball sequel is reportedly in the works.

A sport featuring violence, exclusion, and degradation has never been this much fun.

Dodgeball is currently available to stream on Hulu.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.