I'm generally not a fan of the Farrelly Brothers. I thought both Kingpin and Me, Myself, and Irene were incredibly crass. (I'm no prude; I just prefer my humor with a bit more intelligence. Even Dude, Where's My Car? has a certain charm to it.) I've never even seen Fever Pitch, except for the parts I'm in. But I put these reservations aside when The Ringer was recommended to me, and I was pleasantly surprised when it didn't suck.
Johnny Knoxville stars in this comedy about a loser who pretends to be mentally challenged in order to enter the Special Olympics, expecting it to be a sure gambling win with which to resolve his financial debts. I was hesitant to learn if Knoxville (who I've never seen before) or the tactless Farrellys could handle this topic with aplomb. Tom Griffin tastefully featured mentally challenged adults in his stage play by getting the audience of The Boys Next Door to laugh with, not at, four challenged men, endearing them to the audience and making it all the more tragic and empathetic when their visible struggles resulted in less comical consequences. Could the Farrellys do this, and do it well?
The Ringer is a bit less judicious in its humor, but it's offset a bit by not being very authentic, either. The athletes in the Special Olympics are often much keener and more observant than their supervisors and guardians, quickly seeing through Knoxville's ruse and then becoming his biggest supporters. It's a trivialized, sugar-coated reality where no one is portrayed as "suffering" from a "disability", making it a bit easier to laugh at this work of fiction, knowing that it is just that. (Heck, the rednecks in Idiocracy aren't this smart!)
Some great supporting actors help elevate this film. Katherine Heigl's a honey as the love interest — which is odd, because I don't remember her from Valentine, a silly slasher film with David Boreanaz (Angel) and Marley Shelton (Pleasantville, The Sandlot). Brian Cox, who I'm accustomed to seeing as a wicked villain (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, X2: X-Men United), is disconcertingly amusing as the obnoxious uncle. And the funniest minor character goes to the priest, who shows up in just two scenes but is so unpriestly that my ex-Catholic funny bone quivered with glee.
The ending is imaginably predictable — everyone does the right thing and winds up happy. And that pretty much describes the film as a whole: unoriginal. But The Ringer does what it sets out to do surprisingly not badly. There are many other films I'd recommend first, but if you nonetheless end up seeing this one, have the right expectations and you won't be disappointed.