The Ringer

When the premise of a film concerns a man pretending to be mentally ill to fix the Special Olympics, and the Farrelly Brothers (Bobby and Peter) are the ones behind it, people will most likely cringe in horror. After all, these guys (Fever Pitch, Stuck on You) are famous for gross-out humor that mocks everything. But look again - the Special Olympics are endorsing this film. Huh? The Farrellys have a long history supporting the Special Olympics and the mentally challenged. One of their good friends, Ray "Rocket" Valliere (who had a small role in Stuck on You as well as a moving monologue over the credits) is mentally ill. The Ringer still has much of the non-politically correct humor of a Farrelly film, but not at the expense of the Special Olympians. Instead, it is all heaped upon Steve Barker (Johnny Knoxville, The Dukes of Hazzard, Lords of Dogtown).

Unfortunately, The Ringer cannot have things both ways. Yes, director Barry Blaustein (Beyond the Mat) and screenwriter Ricky Blitt do a good job of casting mentally ill actors and giving them three-dimensional roles that do not mock them, but like Shallow Hal, The Ringer still mocks the mentally ill using the Barker character. It is done obliquely, and not on purpose or with a mean spirit, but it is there nevertheless. This also puts the script in a weird position. The best Farrelly movies (they produced here) combine a sweet story with outrageous antics. The former is here, kind of. The reluctance in the latter is the right thing to do, yet blunts the humor of the film.

Barker decides to fix the Special Olympics because he needs a lot of money to help an ex-employee afford a surgery to sew his fingers back on. Uh, yeah. Barker's Uncle Gary (Brian Cox, Red Eye, The Bourne Supremacy) comes up with the horrible idea, and Barker reluctantly agrees. As soon as he's there, the other Olympians see through his ruse in an instant. The movie portrays them as normal people. Some are nice, some are jerks. They're funny and caring, and well, a bit boring. Barker stays because he has a crush on Lynn Sheridan (Katherine Heigl, Valentine, Bride of Chucky), a cute volunteer. Unfortunately, she thinks he's a Special Olympian and will not date him. The ruse will inevitably cause her to draw away when she finally gets close (c'mon, it's not like this is a bastion of originality).

The Ringer takes a slight turn when the Olympians team up with Barker. He thought that fixing the Olympics would be a slam-dunk. Once there, he realizes that there are some very good athletes, including Jimmy (actual Special Olympian Leonard Flowers), a preening arrogant Olympian with endorsements and his own entourage. Billy (Edward Barbanell), Glen (Jed Rees, Elizabethtown, Men with Brooms) and the rest of the Olympians want to see him go down, and they think that Barker is the best way to make this happen. They put him on a strict training regiment, which basically means that Knoxville gets to participate in a bunch of pseudo-Jackass stunts. The Ringer turns into the typical underdog story, with the Barker character growing a conscience amidst a growing dilemma. How can he keep lying to Sheridan? Does he try to beat Jimmy to fund an operation and help his friends, or does he lose in order to stave off his guilt? Knoxville has shown that he can have a certain charm about him, but not here.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language, and some drug references.

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