The Ringer

Bomb Rating: 

Before proceeding, I feel compelled to note that this film is actually endorsed by the Special Olympics, prompting one person associated with the organization to remark on that "The Ringer" is "a beautiful film." What's next - PETA endorsing a seal-beating contest?

Watching "The Ringer" is not unlike watching porn; after about five minutes one is both supremely bored and wondering whether to be ashamed or not. Down's syndrome and developmental disabilities are treated here like a genetic car crash and we're all invited to slow down and stare for 90 minutes. Imagine also pausing to laugh at the crash's dismembered corpses and the agonizing relatives, and you get some appreciation for the psychological impact of Johnny Knoxville's latest effort.

Let's keep in mind however that Knoxville's whole act has always been to play the idiot. The guilty pleasure of "Jackass" was that the audience could laugh at Knoxville and pals because while they were getting hurt, they were doing it voluntarily. Trying to fix the Special Olympics qualifies as an effort of both stupidity and self-degradation, so there's no love lost for either Steve Barker (Knoxville) or his despicable uncle Gary (Brian Cox). They're purposefully contrasted against the innocent, quirky athletes who despite their challenges function at a surprisingly high level.

Quite honestly, at first I couldn't decide whether I should loathe this film for its exploitation of the developmentally disabled or applaud it for employing a gaggle of challenged actors in an industry that isn't exactly known for its open door policy on employing those with Down's syndrome, assuming one ignores the filmmakers involved with "Aeon Flux." Unfortunately, most of the actors playing the athletes who eventually befriend Steve (and teach him the meaning of generosity or life or whatever) turn out to be professional actors who aren't disabled at all, unless you count the kind of blackened soul that would lead you to steal an acting job from a disabled person.

The ultimate insult to the Special Olympians comes not in the mockery of them, but in the simple fact that this movie is a formulaic piece of crap. The athletes could be homosexuals or nerds or African-Americans or any group of people among whom a single white guy is going to feel out of place. Steve falls for the gorgeous Lynn (Katherine Heigl) and somehow thinks that when his deception is revealed, he'll still have a chance with her. That the film expects us to believe that Steve learns an important lesson, Lynn forgives him, and Steve leaves with a lifelong fondness for helping the mentally challenged is a mentally challenged notion in itself.

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