Making the Grades
Special Olympians are the center of attention in Johnny Knoxville's latest film, The Ringer. But can the star of films like The Dukes of Hazzard and A Dirty Shame really pull off an uplifting tale about these athletes and their events?
In the movie, Knoxville plays Steve Barker, a good-hearted cubicle employee whose career is floundering. When he finally approaches the boss for some added responsibility, he is given the task of firing the janitor, a widowed immigrant with five young children. Worried about Stavi (Luis Avalos) and his family, Steve hires him to work as the gardener at his apartment complex. There an accident severs three of Stavi's fingers and the young employer is faced with a huge medical bill and no insurance.
Steve's crass, cigar-chewing uncle, Gary (Brian Cox), also has some overdue debts. As a solution to their money woes, he convinces Steve to fake his way into the Special Olympics. Then he plans to rig the competition and make a killing by placing huge bets on the underdog.
Steve is reluctant to participate in the scam at first. Then he meets Lynn (Katherine Heigl), one of the counselors at the event. Following their introduction, he gladly falsifies his condition in order to be near her. However his roommate (Edward Barbanell) and the other contestants are far more difficult to fool and before long they have him figured out. Once they hear his story, however, they agree to help him oust the cocky reigning champion, Jimmy Washington (Leonard Flowers).
Establishing himself as the lowlife of the film, Uncle Gary belittles the athletes, ridicules his nephew and makes sleazy, salacious remarks. Unfortunately, other jokes in the script also rely on bathroom commentary, sexual discussions and derogatory name calling for laughs. Profanities as well as a sexual expletive and hand gesture are also treated as comedy.
Slapstick violence is rampant as the other Olympians put Steve through rigorous training sessions that involve repeatedly pulling him out of bed, punching him in the stomach and chasing him with a dog. The phony, who is already prone to tripping, is also hit by flying objects, slapped around by his uncle and pummeled by a priest.
Over time, Steve's appreciation for the athletic abilities and the sensitive nature of his fellow competitors increases. If the audience is able to grow along with the protagonist, the film will achieve its purpose of highlighting the accomplishments of Special Olympians.
However, with a load of content concerns, negligible consequences and an unlikely redemptive comeback The Ringer ends up being an imposter in the genre of inspirational family stories.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Ringer.
Do good intentions and compassion for others ever justify unscrupulous acts? Are there other options Steve can find to solve his money dilemma?
Is there a difference between forgiving and excusing a person’s behavior? What consequences result from Steve’s actions?
Leonard Flowers, who stars as Jimmy Washington, is a 16-year Special Olympics veteran. He competes in track and tennis, and has won numerous medals. To learn more about other athletes and the events involved in the Special Olympics, visit the official site at http://www.specialolympics.org.