Big question: Written by "Family Guy" alum Ricky Blitt and produced by the Farrelly brothers ("Dumb and Dumber"), "The Ringer" features Johnny Knoxville ("Jackass") as Steve Barker, who feigns mental disability to try to win the Special Olympics. Could this be the most tasteless one-joke comedy since "The Aristocrats"?

Catch it: With unexpected politeness, "The Ringer" treads carefully around the issue of mentally challenged athletes and acknowledges its own would-be bad taste. Simply trying to raise money for a disfigured friend, the almost saintly Steve is the butt of far more jabs than his disabled pals.

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Skip it if: You prefer Knoxville in horrifying, what's-he-doing-to-that-cow mode. His character is so pure of heart he makes Clay Aiken look like Robert Downey, Jr.

Bottom line: Occasionally funny and surprisingly inoffensive, "The Ringer" is a tactful tale about honorable ends justifying depraved means. But the film is so restrained that it distinguishes itself only because it (wisely) refuses to ridicule the disabled.

Bonus: The Special Olympics-approved humor in "The Ringer" is so pleasant you can laugh without feeling ashamed, which is more than you can say for Knoxville's other movie this year, "The Dukes of Hazzard."

mpais@tribune.com

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`The Ringer'

Directed by Barry W. Blaustein; screenplay by Ricky Blitt; cinematography by Mark Irwin; production designed by Arlan Jay Vetter; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; edited by George Folsey Jr.; produced by Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly, John Jacobs and Bradley Thomas. A Fox Searchlight Pictures release; opens Friday, Dec. 23. Running time: 1:34. MPAA rating: PG-13 (crude and sexual humor, language and some drug references).

Steve Barker -- Johnny Knoxville

Gary Barker -- Brian Cox

Lynn -- Katherine Heigl

Glen -- Jed Rees

Thomas -- Bill Chott

Billy -- Edward Barbanell