Movie Reviews
3:00 pm
Tue December 27, 2005

The Ringer

Some laughs and much respect.

"It is in the comprehension of the physically disabled, or disordered . . . that we are behind our age . . . . Sympathy as a fine art is backward in the growth of progress . . . ." Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

The Ringer would be worth seeing just to figure out how a comedy centered on The Special Olympics could even be made, much less supported by the organization. I was pleasantly surprised--there are some laughs and much respect where condescension could have been the major comic device.

Johnny Knoxville's Steve is in a nowhere job, when he gets into a situation that demands a considerable sum of money. His shady uncle(Brian Cox) devises a plan to have Steve enter the Olympics as a special needs person in order to throw over the reigning champ and thereby cause considerable gambling winnings. The situation requires Knoxville's Steve to become "Jeffy" and walk carefully between humor and extreme political incorrectness. He succeeds by underplaying gags and lightly sprinkling the sweetness.

Of course, there's Steve's love interest, Lynn (Katherine Heigl), with whom the scenes sometimes stretch too long. But the moments with his handicapped buddies are alive with warmth, self effacement, and wisdom enhanced by the problematic notion that special people shouldn't be smart but are. Herein lies the essential irony of the premise: The humor is too often grounded on our preconceived notion that disabled people can barely utter a sentence. Does the humor of their actually uttering bright thoughts come from that prejudice? In order to accept the premise that handcapped people can be funny because of their disabilities, I had to suspend an automatic reaction against the inherent incorrectness.

A moment showing how truly inspired this comedy could have been occurs when Steve trains to become "Jeffy." He's watching videos that include Rain Man, I am Sam, and The Best of Chevy Chase. The last video raises the immortal observation that the inmates are sometimes saner than their captors.