Steve Barker (Johnny Knoxville) hates his job but after over two years of working, receives a promotion. His first duty is to fire his friend Stavi, who is the janitor. Steve fires Stavi (Luis Ávalos), but hires him to work around his apartment. Stavi gets three fingers cut off in a lawn-mower accident, and reveals that he doesn't have health insurance. Steve must raise $28,000 within two weeks to pay for the surgery to re-attach his friend's fingers. His uncle Gary (Brian Cox), owes $40,000 in gambling debts and suggests that they fix the Special Olympics in San Marcos, Texas in order to solve both of their financial problems. Steve, who competed in track and field in high school as well as being in the drama club, reluctantly enters the Special Olympics in the guise of a high functioning young man with a developmental disability named Jeffy Dahmor. Gary, assuming that Steve will easily defeat the legitimate contenders, bets $100,000 that reigning champion Jimmy Washington won't win the gold medal. Despite initially being disgusted at pretending to be mentally challenged, Steve goes along with it for Stavi.
During the competition, Steve falls in love with Lynn (Katherine Heigl), a volunteer for the Special Olympics. During this time, six of the other contestants bust Steve after seeing through his ruse, so he tells them about what happened with Stavi. As Steve decides to pack up and leave for his ruse being exposed, they tell Steve to stay, since they want to help Steve save Stavi's fingers and they hate the egotistical, arrogant champion Jimmy and want to see him lose.
At the final competition, Steve doesn't actually win; his friend Glen does, with Steve coming in third behind Jimmy. During the medal ceremony Steve admits that he isn't developmentally disabled, reveals his actual name, and that he doesn't deserve his medal. He then gives his medal to Thomas, who had finished fourth. Uncle Gary still ends up winning his bet, since the condition was that Jimmy would lose.
Six months later, Steve has quit his job and is working in theater, helping produce a play with the friends he made during the Special Olympics, as well as Stavi, who got his fingers reattached. Glen and the others trick Lynn into coming to the theater, so Steve starts to apologize. Lynn already forgives him because Stavi told her why Steve pretended to be developmentally disabled. Steve is relieved, and they kiss.Johnny Knoxville as Steve Barker
Brian Cox as Gary Barker
Katherine Heigl as Lynn Sheridan
Jed Rees as Glen
Bill Chott as Thomas
Edward Barbanell as Billy
Leonard Earl Howze as Mark
Geoffrey Arend as Winston
John Taylor as Rudy
Luis Avalos as Stavi
Leonard Flowers as Jimmy
Professional wrestlers Terry Funk and Jesse Ventura's cameo appearances came about due to their friendship with director Barry Blaustein, who met the pair whilst filming wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat in the late 1990s. Funk portrayed one of the debt collectors, while Ventura lent his voice as a motivational speaker on tape.
The film-review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes lists 40% positive reviews based on 84 critics, with an average rating of 4.8 out of 10. The general consensus is that the film was too predictable.
Roger Ebert gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, stating: "The movie surprised me. It treats its disabled characters with affection and respect... and it's actually kind of sweet."
Spinal Cord Injury Zone stated: "Instead of tugging at the heartstrings, The Ringer uses the typical outrageous Farrelly Brothers humor (There's Something About Mary, Stuck on You, Shallow Hal) to promote the message that just like everyone else, individuals with intellectual disabilities are people first, each with their own interests, talents, abilities and personalities. The movie also features more than 150 people with intellectual disabilities in small parts and supporting roles."
- "Ton of Shame"- Written by: Randy Weeks...Performed by: Randy Weeks
- "Mr. Sandman"- Written by: Pat Ballard
- "Sweet Ride"- Written by: Gustaf Norén and Björn Dixgård...Performed by: Mando Diao
- "Wink and a Nod"- Written by: Tom Wolfe...Performed by: The Funny Bones
- "Merlot"- Written by: Tom Wolfe...Performed by: The Tasters
- "Real Thing"- Written by: Tom Wolfe...Performed by: The Shakers
- "Main Title- Written by: Elmer Bernstein...Performed by: Elmer Bernstein
- "Calvera"- Written by: Elmer Bernstein...Performed by: Elmer Bernstein
- "Hot Sugar"- Written by: Sammy James Jr. and Graham Tyler...Performed by: The Mooney Suzuki
- "Girls Gone Wild"- Written by: Karlyton Clanton, Rochad Holiday and Chris Reese...Performed by: Dirty Rat
- "We Got to Get You a Woman"- Written by: Todd Rundgren...Performed by: Todd Rundgren
- "If She Wants Me"- Written by: Sarah Martin, Stuart Murdoch, Richard Colburn, Mick Cooke (as Michael Cooke), Christopher Geddes, Stevie Jackson (as Stephen Jackson) and Bob Kildea- Performed by: Belle & Sebastian
- "Piano Man"- Written by: Billy Joel
- "My Cherie Amour"- Written by: Stevie Wonder, Sylvia Moy and Henry Cosby
- "Kellerman's Anthem"- Written by: Michael Goldman
- "Fox Sports Network College Basketball Theme 2001"- Written by: Christopher Brady
- "September"- Written by: Allee Willis, Al McKay and Maurice White...Performed by Earth Wind & Fire
- "Pretty Girls"- Written by: Carl Brown, Shelly Goodhope, Tanesa Tavin,Daniel Brattain, Veronica Mendez, Darrell Mitchell, Albert Cota, Chantel Roquemore and Michael Monagan...Performed by: The Kids Of Widney High
- "Respect"- Written by: Otis Redding...Performed by: The Kids Of Widney High
- "You Are Everything"- Written by: Linda Creed and Thom Bell (as Thomas Bell)...Performed by: The Stylistics