LOS ANGELES – The filmmaking Farrellys, known for their gleeful bad taste in irreverent comedies such as "There's Something About Mary," are taking on the Special Olympics. Johnny Knoxville of "Jackass" fame is the star.
"The Ringer" sounds like a politically incorrect disaster -- but the Special Olympics couldn't be happier.
Knoxville plays a mild-mannered workaday chap who, in a desperate bid for cash, agrees to go along with his smarmy uncle's underhanded plan: he'll feign a mental disability in an attempt to rig the Special Olympics.
"Come on, a normal guy against a bunch of feebs? You'll look like Carl freakin' Lewis out there," says the uncle.
No wonder it took nearly seven years to get the movie made.
But after a long courtship, the Special Olympics decided "The Ringer" could humanize their athletes and add a new cachet of cool to their organization.
"The risk was that it would further the stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities as the brunt of jokes rather than the teller of jokes," said Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver. "But the payoff was even more valuable."
"I wanted this movie out there," said Peter Farrelly, who co-produced the film with his brother, Bobby. "It's very funny, but I also saw the potential for changing people's perceptions of people with intellectual disabilities."
To make it happen, there were board meetings, script reviews and visits with athletes and their families. Farrelly, along with writer Ricky Blitt and director Barry Blaustein, went to the Special Olympics World Games in Alaska.
Ultimately, the filmmakers did the almost unthinkable: they gave the Special Olympics board final say on the script, plus the chance to cut any ad-libbed scenes once the movie was finished.
"We had to find a way to make this movie without giving away all creative rights to them," Farrelly said. "I became obsessed with getting it made because I saw that it was, on a lot of levels, groundbreaking."
The film includes about 150 disabled athletes and actors -- the largest population of intellectual disabled people ever portrayed in a mainstream movie, Farrelly said.
It's a cause close to Farrelly's heart. A longtime volunteer with Best Buddies, a mentoring program for people with intellectual disabilities, Farrelly saw an opportunity to show the moviegoing masses that people with intellectual disabilities are multifaceted and, most of all, fun.
"These stories are usually tearjerkers and there's no need for it," Farrelly said, adding that disabled characters have appeared in his previous projects. In "There's Something About Mary," for example, the actor Danny Murphy, who plays the Boss's Brother, is in a wheelchair and the character Warren, Mary's brother, is intellectually disabled.
Even Knoxville's bad-boy image is a boon to the film, Shriver said.
"If a guy like that can become friends with a person with Down syndrome, man, that's amazing," said Shriver, the movie's executive producer. Knoxville's fans "are the young people who we want to engage in this movement."
"Jackass" fans will find plenty to like in "The Ringer," Knoxville said.
"It really pushes boundaries," he said. "It shows people who are mentally challenged in a way they've never been shown before."
So is it really OK to laugh at the Special Olympics?
"Absolutely," Farrelly said. "You're not laughing at them. You're really laughing with them. There are a lot of jokes in this movie, and they're in on them all."