The Ringer (2005)
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We're All Retarded
Favorite Movie Quote: "When the f*ck did we get ice cream?"
If you walk into a financieer's office and you pitch this movie, I'd give you a pound of credit just for getting past "Special Olympics" and another pound if you were still going after the word "scam" got thrown into the mix. Most people would assume, given this concept, that it would be done in poor taste, and most times they'd be right. Now I have no prejudice against poor taste - part of treating people equally is making fun of them right along with everyone else (so long as you have the balls to do it to their face) and yourself - and The Ringer isn't really guilty of it, but that's not why this film is financially stillborn.
People walk around with sphinctors so tight, so afraid to hurt anyone's feelings ever, so very much not wanting to feel awkward, that they treat this movie the same way they treat people with various disabilities - they pretend they don't exist. Or they assume they know what it's all about with a glance.
The plot isn't too far from a South Park episode where Cartman figures he can enter the Special Olympics because the athletes will be easy to beat and a bunch of easy marks (Cartman goes on to get his ass kicked). In The Ringer, cubicle warrior and former all-state track star with former aspirations of acting Steve Barker (Johnny Knoxville), needs to help his very stupid friend get his fingers back, while his no-good gambling Uncle Gary (Brian Cox) is in deep to some bad people who happen to watch the Special Olympics. Unless Gary convinces Steve to enter and attempt to win the Special Olympics there's no movie, so naturally Steve reluctantly does so.
You wouldn't think it would be too hard to know how this is going to work out, especially when Steve meets his Special Olympics counselor/coach Lynn Sheridan (Katherine Heigl, just reminding me why I'm happy to be a man), but then he meets his fellow athletes who are not only in better shape than he anticipated but quickly see through his shenannigans. Then the real fun begins.
Beyond being overall entertaining, I think where The Ringer ultimately succeeds is in showing that the perceived gap between 'normal' people and 'retarded' people isn't as wide; once the athletes grasp the labarynthine nonsense that led Steve to cheat, they focus on the central agenda which was that they didn't want to see Jimmy win either. Meanwhile, Lynn's boyfriend treats her like a child, and regardless of your starting position, when you're trying to talk to that certain someone you really fancy we're all a little retarded.
The movie's weakness is that it's a little uneven. Steve's fingerless friend Stavi is played for laughs as being monumentally stupid, but it calls into question whether he himself is mentally disabled. Johnny Knoxville does well hanging out with the athletes but does not have the body of an athlete and lacks the acting prowess to fully execute a romantic lead. The love story actually kinda works, but I'm not sure if that makes it more awkward or less - maybe that's the point?
Either way, I'd go retarded for Katherine Heigl.
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