'The Ringer'


Is it possible to overanalyze a movie in which Johnny Knoxville -- the "Jackass" guy -- pretends to be mentally challenged in order to fix the Special Olympics?

Well, probably. But spend an hour and a half watching "The Ringer" contort itself into a pretzel trying to defuse its deeply thorny storyline, and you'll find your mind wandering down all sorts of unexpected avenues.

"The Ringer" is produced by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, who have previously made a point of including mentally challenged characters, played by mentally challenged actors, in There's Something About Mary and Stuck on You. Their impulse here is similarly enlightened, as Knoxville's charade -- necessitated by an expensive operation to reattach a friend's severed fingers -- teaches him a little something about the way the "special" people are perceived by those on the outside, thanks to his time with the athletes and their comely aide, played by "Roswell's" Katherine Heigl. When he's not taking hits to the crotch, of course.

The moral is clearly deployed with the best of intentions, and if "The Ringer" achieves nothing else - and to be honest, it doesn't -- then at least it forces the viewer to confront the issue of the depiction of the developmentally disabled in popular entertainment.

Of course, the point would have been made more elegantly if the filmmakers hadn't hedged their bets by casting professional, non-disabled actors as Special Olympians in at least two prominent roles. That's Jed Rees, from "Galaxy Quest" and "The Chris Isaak Show," as the jokester Glen, and "Garden State's" Geoffrey Arend as Winston.

Knoxville's interpretation of a challenged person is only supposed to be funny when it's used as a means of commenting on events around him -- and his character gets a pass because he takes Valuable Life Lessons away from the experience. But it's these two who get some of the movie's biggest laughs by, well, acting retarded. It kind of clouds the message, to say nothing of making the viewer feel awfully dirty.

Fox's flippable DVD offers a choice of full-frame and enhanced-widescreen viewing options, and scatters a passel of supplements across both sides of the disc. Both versions of the film include an extremely well-intended audio commentary by Blaustein, Knoxville, screenwriter Ricky Blitt, producer Peter Farrelly and co-stars Edward Barbanell and John Taylor.

The full-frame side contains two featurettes - a seven-minute look at the film's production, leaning heavily on interviews with the mentally challenged members of the cast, a rousing three-minute promo for the real Special Olympics, and a videotaped message from chairman Tim Shriver that's distinguished solely by its abysmal video quality -- seriously, the thing looks like it was shot on VHS-C . (Are we supposed to read anything into the fact that the guy wasn't willing to sit down to tape a new one?)

Flip to the widescreen face, and you'll find a whopping sixteen deleted scenes, including a dropped subplot that features Camille Chen as Knoxville's understandably leery neighbor and another one of those strangely unsettling sequences in which Rees' character flirts with a concession worker at the movies.

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: May 16, 2006
PRICE: $29.98
TIME: 94 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: Spanish audio dub; English, French and Spanish subtitles; audio commentary; deleted scenes; production featurettes.
INTERNET SITE: ringerdvd.com

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