The set-up: Steve Barker has a big problem. After getting a promotion at work, hes instructed by his boss to fire the companys janitor, Stavi. Now Steves a good guy. How do we know this? Because he has a hard time firing Stavi and doesnt pull away too much when Stavi hugs him after cleaning the toilet without the use of gloves. On the spur of the moment, Steve comes up with the brilliant idea of offering Stavi a job as a gardener at his apartment complex. Where Steve is going to get the money to pay Stavi the salary he demands never comes up (this isnt the sort of film you should try to analyze).
Stavi takes the job and promptly cuts off three of his fingers on the blades of a lawnmower. Thankfully we dont have to witness the gore up close. Steve lied to Stavi about having insurance so now Steves in a real bind. He must somehow come up with $28,000, the price of getting Stavis fingers sewn back on.
Coincidentally, at the same time Steve needs money, his uncle (Brian Cox) is getting bullied by loan sharks to pay up his debts. Uncle Gary comes up with the absolutely ridiculous idea of having Steve compete in the Special Olympics. Gary will bet on the games and when he wins, then theyll both have the money they need. Reluctantly Steve goes along with it, hilarity definitely doesnt ensue, and the audience - through Steves interactions with his Special Olympics competitors - is supposed to walk out of the theater having learned many important lessons over the course of 90 minutes.
The film first wants us to laugh at Johnny Knoxville as he tries out different costumes and speech patterns while attempting to nail his performance as a Special Olympics athlete. Then, of course, the movie moves on and Knoxvilles character has a change of heart after actually making friends with Special Olympians. We are then preached to by this trainwreck of a comedy that its a bad thing to laugh at people with disabilities. The fine line the films trying to walk becomes blurred, and the lesson the filmmakers supposedly want us to take away is no longer viable because its been twisted around by the use of jokes at the Special Olympics athletes expense. As an example, the script calls for Jed Rees (an actor playing a Special Olympian) to tell the same joke over and over, and you know the director wants the audience to laugh. Its used for comic effect. But by asking us to laugh at him, it negates the positive message the filmmakers are trying to cram down our throats. A side note on Jed Rees: he was terrific in Galaxy Quest but he seemed to be channeling his alien character from that film in this one, although he did add a weird way of holding his head to this particular role.
Its not like we need Johnny Knoxville to tell us how to behave, and I dont believe the film will change anyones opinion of people with disabilities. It may open up some doors for actors with developmental disabilities, which would be an improvement over having so-called normal actors playing people with handicaps.
I did love the fact the best lines and jokes were given to the actual Special Olympics athletes who co-starred with Knoxville. In fact, I would have enjoyed the movie more had all the lines been awarded to the actors with disabilities. As it was, it was an uncomfortable, seat-squirming blend of poking fun at the stereotypes associated with people with mental retardation and wagging a finger at those who do.
"The Ringer" was directed by Barry Blaustein and is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and some drug references.