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Originally published December 23, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 23, 2005 at 8:13 AM

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Movie Review

Cheeky comedy "The Ringer" has a big heart

To pretend to be mentally challenged so you can fix the Special Olympics, you need an awfully good reason. And the Farrelly brothers, who...

Special to The Seattle Times

To pretend to be mentally challenged so you can fix the Special Olympics, you need an awfully good reason. And the Farrelly brothers, who gave us "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary," have come up with a doozy.

In their latest comedy, "The Ringer," Johnny Knoxville plays Steve Barker, a hapless office worker who won't obey orders to fire Stavi (Luis Avalos), his company's veteran janitor. Instead, the accommodating Steve hires Stavi to mow his lawn. The former janitor promptly loses three fingers in a power mower; they can be reattached only if Steve comes up with $28,000 for the operation.

Steve's sleazy uncle, Gary (Brian Cox), who has his own gambling debts to pay off, comes up with a scheme to save the fingers — and himself. He'll bet against a pompous veteran Special Olympics athlete, hoping that Steve can beat him by entering the race and faking his disability. Preparation includes studying tapes of "Rain Man," "I Am Sam" and "Forrest Gump."

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"The Ringer," with Johnny Knoxville, Brian Cox. Directed by Barry W. Blaustein, from a script by Ricky Blitt. 94 minutes. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and some drug references. Several theaters.

It doesn't take long for the real Special Olympics players to figure out that Steve is a fraud, but they're sympathetic to his cause, and they're not fans of the veteran athlete who always wins the gold medals. When it turns out that their favorite young volunteer worker, Lynn (Katherine Heigl), has been betrayed by her boyfriend, they also help Steve court her.

Predictable and unconvincing as romantic comedy, the movie is surprisingly sweet and funny whenever Steve is hanging out with his fellow Special Olympics players, including Jed Rees as gregarious Glen and Bill Chott as talkative Thomas. Avalos' ever-cheerful Stavi is also a treat, especially when he's selling the bright side of having three fewer fingers.

The movie recently won an enthusiastic endorsement from the Special Olympics and the National Association for Down Syndrome, and no wonder. The script by Ricky Blitt (from television's wonderfully irreverent "Family Guy") saves its mockery for people whose disabilities are mostly moral.

The Farrellys are listed only as producers on "The Ringer." The picture was directed by Barry W. Blaustein, co-writer of the lame remake of "The Honeymooners," and it's a rather choppy affair. At worst, it's just one more comedy in which the hero wins the girl because, well, just because. At best, it suggests an update of "Freaks," Tod Browning's classic 1932 meditation on the definition of "normal."

John Hartl:

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