The Ringer

During the holiday season, filmviewers expect to see at least one feel-good movie. I Am Sam (2001), for example, showed the exemplary way in which a mentally challenged individual saw the world and did good deeds. The Ringer, directed by Barry W. Blaustein, is the latest in the genre but falls short by trying to make a serious statement after beginning as a comedy. The plot begins simply enough. Steve Barker (played by Johnny Knoxville) listens to a tape while at work. The tape encourages him to become a winner. He then approaches his boss and asks for more responsibility in the business. His boss asks him to fire Stavi (played by Luis Ávalos), a janitor who left piss on the toilet seat in the executive bathroom. Steve tries to fire Stavi, who is a single parent with five children, so he desperately needs the job and the medical benefits. Steve then offers to increase Stavi’s salary if he will instead work as his gardener, and he agrees to provide medical benefits as well. One day, while operating the electric lawnmower for the first time, the machine stops. Stavi reaches into the motor and accidentally three fingers are severed. Steve then takes Stavi to the hospital, where he is informed that there is a $18,000 pricetag for reattaching the fingers, which are then frozen while he promises to raise the cash. Steve calls his Uncle Gary (played by Brian Cox) for a loan, but his uncle owes loansharks and cannot provide anything. Then Uncle Gary designs a scam while watching television. If Steve will pretend to be mentally challenged, he can compete and win in the forthcoming Special Olympics; Uncle Gary will bet $100 on him and collect big, while Steve will win $25,000. Steve then checks into the Special Olympics Village in a Texas town under the name Jeffy Dahmor. Filmviewers will be delighted as he becomes acquainted with his new friends, several mentally challenged athletes. Steve discovers the goodness not only of the mentally challenged but also of those who organize the event, including Lynn Sheridan (played by Katherine Heigl), with whom he falls in love. The best part of the film is the interaction between Steve and his new peers, some of whom are mentally challenged in real life. Although they quickly figure out that he is faking, they allow him to proceed anyway when they hear the purpose of his quest–to help a man regain his fingers. However, arrogant Jimmy Washington (played by Leonard Flowers), who has won gold medals year after year, is his main competitor. Tired of Jimmy’s overconfident demeanor, they want him to be humbled. Ultimately, the show must go on, and the competition begins. Steve wins two rounds, and Jimmy two rounds, leaving the final round to decide which one is the winner. The unexpected ending ensures that The Ringer will put smiles on the faces of filmviewers. However, the humor in the beginning is often very cruel and slapstick. Audiences of young people may laugh so inappropriately that more levelheaded filmviewers may be annoyed by their emotional immaturity, which perhaps reveals mental health problems of the X generation, so a better screening opportunity is to obtain the DVD for home viewing. Those who are themselves mentally challenged are definitely warned not to see the film. MH

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