I went to see "Dodgeball" the other day. I should've walked through a car wash buck-naked instead.

Naturally, "Dodgeball" is a box-office hit, though it made me yearn for kinder, gentler sports movies, like "Raging Bull" and "Rollerball." Would it kill anyone to remake "The Pride of the Yankees"? Couldn't a Boy or Girl Scout benefit from "Jim Thorpe: All American" or "Knute Rockne: All American"? How did we get from "The Bad News Bears" to "Dodgeball"? Needless to say, we are in bad, bad shape, despite the fact there is a new version of Coke on the market with half the calories and half the carbs.

We are a culture without a conscience.

(Alas, Couch Slouch had not been to the movies in quite a while. In the old days, I was bothered that people would talk to each other during the movie. Nowadays, they talk on the cell phone during the movie. Here's what I overheard, on two occasions: "I can't talk now, I'm at the movies." Uh, then why did you leave your cell phone on? Now, in defense of this practice, it's possible that every third person in the theater is a neurosurgeon on call.)

"Dodgeball" stars a likable, understated Vince Vaughn and, of course, a not-as-likable, overused Ben Stiller. (Movies in recent years can be pretty much divided into two categories -- those with Stiller and those without. Hey, I appreciate Ben Stiller as much as anyone, but if he gets any more film work, he'll have to change his name legally to Samuel L. Jackson.)

Going in, I figured "Dodgeball" would have the usual staple of gross-out humor, fat-people humor, gay humor, S&M humor, groin humor, syphilis humor and urine humor. It did. More pointedly, "Dodgeball" had dodgeball, celebrating another staple of our tumbling society -- the strong abusing the weak.

For those of you unfamiliar with dodgeball, here is a primer: You take a large rubber ball and throw it as hard as you can at somebody. The object is to knock other people down, maybe sting and maim them, without necessarily killing them. In effect, the game is a metaphor for U.S. foreign policy over, oh, the last half-century or so.

The game is enjoying a renaissance among grade-school kids, and with the thrust of "Dodgeball," is there any doubt that adults won't soon follow? Why wouldn't there be a professional dodgeball league made for TV? After all, cable is a poisoned well with a bottomless pit. (In "Dodgeball," the main competition is televised by ESPN8, with Jason Bateman doing a hilarious turn as color analyst.)

The game of dodgeball combines elements of football, rugby, ultimate fighting, martial arts, paintball, the WWE, working for Halliburton and cruising singles bars. What a demographic we're looking at!

(Television's beyond a vast wasteland, it's a toxic dumping ground. Mark Cuban's going to be on prime time on ABC. John McEnroe's going to be on prime time on CNBC. O.J.'s coming back. Heck, I don't know how we've sidestepped a Jeff Gillooly variety show for this long.)

So as I walked out of "Dodgeball" -- and as my fellow audience members filed out, many of them immediately got on their cell phones, to let friends and family know they were just leaving "Dodgeball" and headed toward their SUVs -- I was struck with the inescapable conclusion that, as a culture, we are, well, screwed.

"Dodgeball" rewards the twin American passions of aggression and aggravation; it reinforces our violent and ugly tendencies. No wonder we cut each other off on the road, engage in shoutfests on talk radio, throw stuff onto the field at ballparks, plus shoot and murder each other at rates unsurpassed by any other nation in history.

Best I can tell, we're all going to hell in a handbasket, and if it's up to the American consumer, that handbasket's going to get maybe 12 or 14 miles per gallon.

On a positive note, the cinematography in "Dodgeball" was excellent.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Of the first 18 picks in the NBA draft, seven were high schoolers. Isn't that a big risk? (Martin Deutch; Waukesha, Wis.)

A. Wal-Mart hires out of high school all the time, and stocking shelves in Aisle 9 after hours is a lot more responsibility than sitting at the end of the Clippers bench.

Q. Were any of your ex-wives better looking than Calamity Jane? (Bill Lehky; Strongsville, Ohio)

A. Actually, my ex-wives were quite good-looking. All of them had a blind spot, though -- they couldn't see my face.

Q. Which situation will be resolved first -- Fidel Castro's heavy-handed government in Cuba, Yasser Arafat's questionable control in the PLO or Abe Pollin's stagnant regime in Washington? (Todd H. Oppenheim; Baltimore)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. What was the highlight of your recent trip to Las Vegas? (Martin Rosales; Tucson.)

A. I had a coupon for an escort service.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. E-mail asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!