Hippo Manchester
December 29, 2005


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FILM: The Ringer (PG-13)  C-

by Amy Diaz

Johnny Knoxville stars in The Ringer, the extended remix version of the Cartman-pretends-heís-mentally-challenged-to-cheat-in-the-Special-Olympics episode of South Park.

The completely unnecessary extended remix. South Park did it better, did it quicker and did it without requiring me to fork over eight bucks for a movie ticket. Sorry, Farrelly brothers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone did it better.

Steve (Knoxville) is a too-nice shlub who is rewarded for his attempts to get a promotion at work by being told to fire the janitor, Stavi (Luis Avalos). But Steve is too nice and Stavi is too sweet-tempered for Steve to actually go through with it. Instead, he gives Stavi a job at his apartment complex mowing the lawn, not heeding Staviís own warning that ďStavi not so smart.Ē Perhaps in the lawn-care orientation, Steve should have explained the exact operation of a lawn mower because, when the mower gets stuck, Stavi attempts to fix it by sticking his hand in the rotors, resulting in a trip to the hospital and a zip-lock baggie full of fingers.

Staviís misfortune, however, is a boon for Steveís Uncle Gary (Brian Cox), who is into the mob for a whole lot of money. Oddly, the particular mob boss looking to collect is a big fan of Jimmy (Leonard Flowers), the Michael Jordan of the Special Olympics. Gary decides to get Steve, a former track and field star, to enter the Special Olympics in an attempt to fix the games. Steve, who needs cash to pay for Staviís finger-reattaching operation, reluctantly agrees.

Despite what one might say is Steveís natural ability at playing ďspecial,Ē he is instantly outed by the rest of the competitors as different. They are skeptical heíll truly be any good but they decide to help him as they are sick of watching Jimmy get all the glory year after year.

And, naturally, whatís a good comedy of misidentity without a little romance? A very little romance, thankfully, but still we get a story about the relentlessly chipper and goodhearted Special Olympics volunteer Lyn (Katherine Heigl). She has the requisite jerk boyfriend and would be perfect for Steve except for the corner heís painted himself into wherein he is, to her, either mentally challenged or a horrible liar.

I should say that despite how it sounds and how horrible it could be, The Ringer actually does right by its mentally challenged characters. Some are played by actually challenged actors, some arenít. But the characters are treated as what they are ó adults who have mental disabilities, not simply loveable cartoon characters. They are not angelic; they neither lack sexual desires nor exist in a world beyond jealousies and normal human pettiness. They misbehave, they act out of self-interest, they are some of the better characters in the movie.

What holds The Ringer back, more than even its stolen premise, is that unlike other Farrelly brothers movies (to be fair, they only produced here and didnít write or direct) about the scorned (Shallow Hal, for example) is that we donít have any aw-shucks affection for the leads. Neither Knoxville nor Heigl is particularly engaging in the way that Jack Black, Ben Stiller or Jim Carrey were when they spent time as the loser but ultimately loveable leads in Farrelly movies.

Nor is Knoxville completely hateable, which would be the other way to go with this sort of story. Of course then The Ringer would probably owe Cartman royalties.