Favorite Fictional Characters, #271: Patches O'Houlihan
DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story is a bundle of satire. It announces right in its title that it parodies the predictable sports movie with the ragtag band of misfits coming together to go up against the hated powerhouse. Other satirical targets include the male ego (Ben Stiller's fragile, insecure White Goodman is an over-the-top advertisement for Charlie Atlas and Viagra all at once), the teen cheerleader storyline, uber-glib sports broadcasters (and the proliferation of cable sports channels), and many more. The film succeeds because it never, ever takes itself seriously, whether it's strange cameos by William Shatner, Lance Armstrong, and Chuck Norris, or Vince Vaughn's shambling awareness that it's all so damn silly, or the unrelenting sight gags of physical comedy. Sometimes its as simple as watching a guy get hit in the face by a wrench.
Of all the tropes skewered in DodgeBall, my favorite is the grizzled mentor in the hero's journey. Patches O'Houlihan fills the role of Yoda or Dumbledore if those august personages were crippled, venal drunks with a penchant for unforgiving verbal abuse and drinking their own urine. One of the sport's greats in his salad days, O'Houlihan crawls out of the sewer of his dotage to help Average Joe's and Peter LaFleur in their quest to take down the evil empire of Globogym. He has to die, of course, crushed by two tons of irony, in order for Peter and his band to win without their guiding light. But before he goes, O'Houlihan (inhabited with such gleeful gruffness by Rip Torn) peppers the film with raunchy, disturbing, and hilarious commentary, vulgar insults, and generally the kind of behavior that gets coaches fired. But he knows the sport, and its five Ds, better than anyone. And without him, Average Joe's never makes it to the mountaintop.