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The Ringer Reviews

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Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

April 21, 2014
As a film enthusiast, you're always looking to be surprised. The more one learns about a given medium or art form, the more one risks falling into cynicism, focussing solely on the conventions and limitations of said form until the only surprises in life are the crushing disappointments. I hinted at this in my review of The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, arguing that sometimes it is best to go in completely cold.

I find myself in a similar predicament with The Ringer. Like Remi Bezanšon's debut from six years ago, there are a lot of aspects to its surface which could cause any sensible film fan to write it off. From any angle it's not a great film, just as you wouldn't expect any of the individuals it showcases to be great athletes. But when given the chance to show what it can do, it is surprising and genuinely touching.

While ostensibly helmed by Barry W. Blaustein, The Ringer is at heart a Farrelly Brothers project. It's shot and constructed in a very similar manner to the Farrellys' own directorial efforts, and nods towards many of the themes and motifs which are explored in the likes of Dumb and Dumber or There's Something About Mary. These include: the lengths to which men go to be with women, how childhood trauma impacts on people in adult life, and the social status of people with disabilities.

It's fitting, albeit in an unfortunate way, that I should be reviewing this film so soon after the tragic death of Rik Mayall. Both Mayall and the Farrellys have aspects of their ouevre which appear outwardly to be puerile, adolescent and stupid - Bottom being the clearest example in the former case. But in both instances, the toilet humour can be regarded as superficial, a way-in for the mainstream to explore issues which would not be raised so aptly in lesser productions.

It is, of course, perfectly easy to view Bottom as just an endless string of knob gags and rude words. But it is just as possible to view it as a modern-day Waiting for Godot, exploring as it does the existential angst of two lonely men with no discernable purpose or special qualities. In the same way, we can write off The Ringer as just another predictable film about an adolescent man-child, hooking up with a woman who's out of his league and being offensive along the way. But beneath this predictable surface, its treatment of issues surrounding disability is admirable, if not reasonably sophisticated.

There are many aspects to The Ringer which are annoyingly predictable. Its characters are painted in broad strokes and feel very one-dimensional, at least for the first 30 minutes. Brian Cox in particular gets very little to work with: we get the set-up of his dirty dealings with the Mob, which explains his slave-driver nature, and he has to spend the rest of the film being sleazy because that's the purpose of his character. The main characters are all archetypes and the film doesn't make a great deal of effort to challenge these archetypes or make them distinctive beyond the talent attached.

The plot of The Ringer is equally formulaic. Because Johnny Knoxville's character is positioned so strongly as the good guy, we know from the start that he's not going to follow through with things. The romance with Katherine Heigl's character is merely an extra incentive to excuse what we know is going to happen. While his final speech about being a cheat is mercifully short - compared to similar speeches in Oscar-bait movies - there is nothing really new being said here.

This formulaic feel is reinforced in Blaustein's direction. We get the inevitable training montages, with first Steve's dad and then his fellow competitors putting him through his paces. It's possible to do these scenes well and make them funny (in A Knight's Tale, for example), but here they feel flat and are edited in an all-too-conventional manner. The awkward conversations between Lynn and 'Jeffy' are framed in tight, off-angle close-ups, just like any teen comedy you care to mention.

The cinematography to The Ringer also has an oddly plastic quality to it which makes aspects of the film seem all the more unbelievable. The film is shot by Mark Irwin, a frequent Farrelly collaborator who began his career shooting some of David Cronenberg's best work. But this is 'plastic reality' in a bad sense: the primary colours look garish, many shots are slightly overexposed, and the sets have a very tacky feel to them.

But in spite of all these problems or shortcomings, there is much about The Ringer which can and should be praised. First and foremost, it handles its central concept (a man pretending to be disabled) with taste and dexterity. In Lars von Trier's The Idiots, people pretended to be disabled in a misjudged and ill-conceived statement of rebellion; we were expected to like Stoffer, who led the movement, but very quickly dismissed him as a pretentious oaf. Here, on the other hand, the filmmakers never condone what Steve is doing, demonstrating the flaws in his father's ableist arguments and using their offensive nature to poke fun at such small-minded attitudes.

While many Hollywood productions would ask their actors to mimic a disability, Blaustein and the Farrellys actually cast actors with the same disabilities as the characters they play. If Spinal Cord Injury Zone is to be believed, there are over 150 actors with intellectual disabilities who have supporting roles in the film. Crucially, the film doesn't draw attention to them or give them special treatment; they're treated like every other actor in the film, and that is just as it should be.

This reflects the central message of The Ringer: that people with disabilities, of whatever kind, are just as capable of leading a normal and successful life as anyone else. Each of the Special Olympic athletes who get a decent amount of screen time are built up as rounded characters, with their own personalities, aspirations, flaws and power structures. Blaustein and the Farrellys deserve a lot of credit for holding their nerve, putting in the hard yards and never using the characters' disability for any kind of cheap, nasty gag.

Knoxville is also a pleasant surprise in the leading role. You'd think that the man behind Jackass might not have the chops to hold our attention beyond the physical set-pieces, let alone charm us. But Knoxville acquits himself well, gradually winning us over and lending at least some credibility to his relationship with an equally decent Heigl. Sure, he's no Robert De Niro, and the script itself isn't great, but as with so much of this film, he's better than we had any right to expect.

The Ringer is a slight but pleasant surprise, taking a premise that could have been deeply misjudged and turning it into something respectful and passingly entertaining. While not a great film by any standards in terms of its storytelling and production qualities, it does handle its subject matter with respect without resorting to high-and-mighty rhetoric. If nothing else, like Animal House before it, it proves that bad taste does not always mean bad quality.

Super Reviewer

June 3, 2012
Comical, but disjointed, The Ringer fails at being an effective comedy that has any real merit. I don't personally think that this film makes fun of disabled people, and I didn't take offence (I have Cerebral Palsy), I simply think that the film given the subject matter could have been much better than what it turned out to be. The film was comical at times, but it lacked anything to really make this comedy stand out. I thought it was nice to see Johnny Knoxville in a comedy other than Jackass, unfortunately, this is not a great comedy, and he is capable of so much better. This film is poorly constructed with tiresome gags that are just not funny. The film had potential in being something better than this, but it failed miserably. This is an awful film with no redeeming qualities, and given a script rewrite, this film could have been good. The jokes don't work most of the time, and though the film has a good intention, it doesn't do anything with the material. The film suffers from its predictability, and therefore by the films end, you really don't care about the characters. This film, like I said could have been good, but with a poor, predictable script, it never succeeds, and it becomes awful by the minute. The Ringer just ends up being a missed opportunity in trying to create a good comedy. The film could have much better than this.

Super Reviewer

April 16, 2007
Johnny Knoxville playing mentally challenged shouldn't be too much of a stretch for him. What with all the braincells he must have lost during his years in Jackass, he's practically in the special olympics already. Anyways, before this becomes too much of a thesis on Johnny's IQ (or rather to say, lack thereof), let me just mention what I thought of the actual movie. First and foremost, I was surprised in a very positive way in how it deals with the whole concept. Contrary to what you may believe, it doesn't make fun of its special participants, but rather celebrates their great personalities, while giving them a chance to shine on the big screen. Furthermore, it makes a very important statement about how society - out of the worst kind of ignorance - underestimates these individuals and what they're actually capable of. Besides said message, it's also a highly entertaining story with its heart in the right place. I was laughing out loud on more than a few occations - never once feeling the urge to look at the watch. One of my favourite gags is when Johhny (a.k.a. Steve Barker) watch a bunch of movies with his uncle for "research", and between a copy of Rain Man and Forrest Gump, you also see a video marked "Best of Chevy Chase". Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but that sure counts for funny in my book.

Super Reviewer

June 23, 2011
Absolutely hilarious. Love Johnny Knoxville, he's a legend!

Super Reviewer

April 29, 2011
A cult classic, but I had problems with ending and Knoxvills character. Johnny Knoxville is a hilarious, so why in this do they try and make him the voice of reason. The plot is hilarious but at the end its cliche and stupid. I like this movie a lot, andbits hilarious, but it still has many problems.
Coxxie M

Super Reviewer

June 11, 2009
Credit to "retard #7" for not acting too retardy. he seemed only slightly retarded in the sense that he couldn't pronounce the word "girl" and it was funny to me, watching him try so hard to say it like people do and so i was amused. movie also includes the incredibly, by-now meaningless, "THATS THE NICEST THING ANYONE HAS EVER SAID TO ME" line. also used in "reality bites", "road trip", and countless other films. a character usually uses this line when the screenwriter decides he wants the two cute actors to kiss. it doesn't matter that the previous line was "hmm, i guess decaf isn't a bad idea." the audience loves the line, "thats the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me" because it reminds them of the simpler times when they also loved people who said nice things to them, and so they drive to Best Buy and pick up a copy for their friend at work too. you know, Janet the receptionist? she just loves romantic comedies.

Super Reviewer

February 5, 2010
Well worth the wait! The Ringer is one of the funniest movies of 2005!

Super Reviewer

July 21, 2007
I didn't know what to expect from this movie as it focuses on the Special Olympics. Steve sinks to an all time low by pretending to me mentally challenged to enter and win the Special Olympics. It has romance and comedy. It all comes good in the end.
Anthony L

Super Reviewer

October 1, 2009
It's touching moments and slight splashes of humour just about save this, otherwise, awful film. Its defence seems to be that instead of making fun of people with learning difficulties & the handicapped, it?s actually making fun of able bodied people but we all know that that's a load of crap. This does make fun of 'retards' and is a low form of humour. Johnny Knoxville is quite likable in it though as are the supporting cast but I'm just not a big fan of this kind of film.

Super Reviewer

September 9, 2007
HaHa I Loved this movie it was hilarious Johnny Knoxville is brilliant and is a brilliant actor!! i love katherine Heigl as well!!
this movie is funny silly and has blossoming romance!!
Johnny Knoxville plays Steve Barker who is working in an office and hates it his friend has an accident and needs money to have 3 fingers sown back on costing 20grand as hes not got health insurence he rings his dad asking but hes in trouble as well oweing gansters 40grand Knoxville then gets persuaded into playing a mentally challenged man!
This movie is hilarious and witty and silly and they had fun with it, its a good storyline and beautifully acted worth a wattch!
Lady D

Super Reviewer

August 2, 2006
Admittedly I only caught this one part way through it?s humour was certainly totally un-Pc, but this led to some pretty funny moments.

Super Reviewer

August 26, 2007
Chick's hot, had some funny moments, but nah.
Dean L

Super Reviewer

July 18, 2007
I love this movie. This was one of those films that could have gone horribly wrong. It had some very sensitive subject matter to work with and make comedic. The persons involved in this movie are also very invested in the "cause" and it showed. The movie had heart. Knoxville was fun to watch. All of our protagonists were superb. I could watch this again...maybe even a few more times.
Luke B

Super Reviewer

June 11, 2007
I really liked this. One because I love laughing at those different to me, it's funny. Second because the film was produced with a lot of heart. I often find people avoiding the subject of people's disabilities more insulting than admitting they exist. The Ringer doesn't show that we should pity or humour anyone labeled 'retarded' or 'mentally challenged'. Knoxville is great in the lead role and Brian Cox is a bit underused but has the same comic brilliance he had in Super Troopers.
Rachel F

Super Reviewer

May 19, 2007
I thought this movie was so cute and really funny. I love Johnny Knoxville.
Drew S

Super Reviewer

May 12, 2007
So it's not a very good movie - better than I expected, but still pretty low-rung comedy - however, it wins major points in my book because it's a surprisingly respectful and steady-handed depiction of the mentally retarded. I work in special education, and just because someone is learning-disabled doesn't mean they're a drooling, moaning idiot. For The Ringer to accurately portray that is very reassuring. Hell, even the Special Olympics endorses the film.

I dunno, it's just not a very funny movie. Granted, I didn't see the last 15 or 20 minutes, but even though it's relatively competent, there's little to laugh at.
Lanning :

Super Reviewer

December 25, 2006
I guess I knew that Knoxville would consider no topic off-limits when it came to getting a laugh and making a buck. And Cox's participation in this project is no surprise; it's a testament to his overall ability. I don't think I've ever confused him with an actor, and certainly not one with any kind of finer principles. But Katherine Heigl? Why?
Bradley W

Super Reviewer

December 2, 2011
A cult classic, but I had problems with ending and Knoxvills character. Johnny Knoxville is a hilarious, so why in this do they try and make him the voice of reason. The plot is hilarious but at the end its cliche and stupid. I like this movie a lot, andbits hilarious, but it still has many problems.
Dillon L

Super Reviewer

April 26, 2011
An offensive, unfunny, waste of time.
Byron B

Super Reviewer

June 4, 2007
I'm not a fan of Johnny Knoxville and his normally jackass career, but he actually acted well enough in this one that I believed he wasn't a jackass by the end. Katherine Heigl really helps elevate this movie and her costar as she seems to do again and again in her career. I felt the movie does not encourage you to laugh at the mentally challenged special Olympians, but allows you to laugh with them. All the special Olympians are truly charming and funny guys, and the movie reminded me of the classic Revenge of the Nerds.
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