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The Ringer

Try, for a moment, to imagine filmmakers doing something this loathsome: They secure the cooperation of the Special Olympics. They cast real kids with Down Syndrome in lead and background roles. They feature the all-disabled singing group The Kids of Whitney High performing a cover — of Aretha Franklin's "Respect," natch — over the end credits. And what do the filmmakers do with all this authentic raw material? Why, they tell the story of a cubicle-dweller (Johnny Knoxville) who pretends he's retarded and competes in the Special Olympics — so he and his cigar-chomping uncle (Brian Cox) can throw the results and win a bet. And because you've got to have a love interest, Knoxville uses his act to get close to a hot Special Olympics volunteer (Katherine Heigl) who lost her brother to Down Syndrome. Now, considered solely on the merit of sheer outrageousness, it's a decent bad-taste story idea. That's not the problem. What makes The Ringer (2005) particularly vile is its smarmy hypocrisy. After showing us endless pratfalls and abusing words like "'tard" and "feeb" — and after presenting a hero who gets laughs by doing a bad 'tard impression — the filmmakers also want to be seen as noble. They want to be liked. Because between insults, they slather us with "inspirational" and "heartfelt" and "irreverent" bonding scenes, as if they expected us to thank them for humanizing special-needs kids. In a sense, director Barry W. Blaustein and writer Ricky Blitt, produced by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, want to take liberties with the Special Olympics and then be congratulated for it. And even worse, their jokes aren't funny. While staying in what must be called the Special Olympic Village, Knoxville's ruse is exposed and then abetted by six fellow competitors — played by a mix of real Down Syndrome kids (Edward Barbanell) and non-disabled actors (Jed Rees, Bill Chott, Geoffrey Arend). It's easy to tell who the real mentally disabled actors are: They're the ones who actually comport themselves with dignity and deliver their lines straight and have decent running form. To be fair, there's one amusing training montage, plus a funny scene where a priest reacts violently to Knoxville confessing his sins. And, to his credit, Knoxville has scene after scene where he has to convey real emotions underneath a layer of fake cartoon disability, which looks like it was kind of hard, if totally foolhardy. (Imagine, if you will, the brain-melting sight of Knoxville spazz-dancing at a Special Olympics ball with Heigl, and being asked to root for it.) Nevertheless: Viewers are bound to be bored by all of the moments of forced uplift, and they'll mostly laugh whenever a disabled kid falls down on the track.

Fox's DVD release features a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include a commentary by director Barry W. Blaustein, screenwriter Ricky Blitt, producer Peter Farrelly, and stars Johnny Knoxville, Edward Barbanell, and John Taylor. Extras on the flip-side on the disc include 16 deleted scenes, the featurette "Let the Games Begin: A Look at The Ringer," an additional Special Olympics featurette, and a message from Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver. Keep-case.
Mike Russell

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