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Benchwarmers, The

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/06/06 21:56:05

"At least it's short."
1 stars (Sucks)

After mulling it over for much, much longer than any semi-intelligent human probably should, I think I’ve figured out why “The Benchwarmers” doesn’t work as a comedy. I mean beyond the usual reasons, such as bad jokes, horrible cast members, a lousy script, insipid direction, etc., etc. There’s something else going on here, something preventing the film from having even the slightest chance of success, and it is this: watching grown men defeat children in a baseball game just isn’t funny. Of course they win. They’re grown-ups, playing grade schoolers. How is that comedy?

Now, if the kids would win, that would be funny. Especially when you consider the movie’s premise, in which three bumbling nerds take on ten-year-old bullies in a little league tournament. You see, the image of three men being so inept at everything they do that they can’t even compete against a knothole league, why, there just might be something there. You could have these three losers get taken to town in every game, only to struggle to make it into the championship game, in a goofy send up of all the familiar sports movie clichés. Yeah, with the right talent and a solid screenplay, that could work.

Alas, “The Benchwarmers” is instead a film from Happy Madison, Adam Sandler’s production company through which he gives his friends enough money to made unbearably stupid comedies. “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” was a Happy Madison production. So were “Joe Dirt” and “The Animal.” Let’s not even mention “Grandma’s Boy.” You can usually spot a Happy Madison production right away - even if Rob Schneider’s not in it, just look for the former pro athlete who stops in to crack some homophobic one-liner, the concern not being if he delivers his joke well, but if he manages to finish the sentence without mispronouncing any of the words.

For “The Benchwarmers,” Sandler hands the keys over to director Denis Dugan (whose best work to date is “Happy Gilmore,” and whose worst movie to date is everything else he’s ever made) and screenwriters Nick Swardson (a mildly uninteresting stand-up comic) and Allen Covert (Sandler’s old college buddy who’s worked on way too many movies for a guy this completely untalented). For the lead roles as the three losers, we get Schneider, David Spade, and Jon Heder. Swardson plays Spade’s brother, an albino agoraphobic who lives in a closet. Craig Kilborn stops by to play (surprise, surprise) an obnoxious prick. Toss in a Tom Green, a Larry the Cable Guy, and/or a Carlos Mencia, and you’ve got a glimpse into my own personal hell.

The film, which manages to feel quite overlong at a mere eighty minutes, finds Schneider as a landscaper (who is married, inexplicably and impossibly, to Molly Sims), Spade as a greasy video store clerk with a Prince Valiant hairdo, and Heder as a semi-retarded paperboy who picks his nose. In case you are wondering, Heder’s performance seems to be based mostly on his work in “Napoleon Dynamite,” because it is safe to assume that Heder is well on his way to becoming as much a one-note performer as his co-stars now are. Oh, and he always wears a bike helmet, because that is what passes in this movie for funny.

Anyway, the trio, tired of seeing nerdy kids in the neighborhood get beat up, challenge the local bullies to a baseball game. The video store clerk and the paperboy act as though they have never seen a baseball in their life, but oh, how the landscaper can knock ’em out of the park; the team wins thanks entirely to his parade of home runs. This inspires a local billionaire (Jon Lovitz - and sadly, no, not even he can rescue this movie from dismal failure) to start up a little league tournament, local boys’ teams vs. these three morons, the winner receiving a massive state-of-the-art stadium complex - all to prove to the community that nerds shall overcome, or, at least, that former “Saturday Night Live” cast members are sometimes able to hit a pitch thrown by a boy one quarter their age. Meanwhile, Craig Kilborn, playing the coach of a rival team, acts like a prick.

It’s a big mess that delivers fart jokes, urinal jokes, hits-to-the-groin jokes, and two scenes in which bystanders produce ample supplies of vomit. I would call the humor here “scatological,” but I fear that those responsible for the film’s production would have no idea what I was talking about, so I’ll just say that the filmmakers sure love to giggle at the mention of poopie.

It should be no surprise that the dialogue is equally as terrible, but hey, why should that stop me from bringing it up? Here, my friends, is a sampling of the script’s brilliant wordplay:

Heder: “What’s steroids?”
Spade: “Something that makes your pee-pee smaller.”
Heder, whose character likes to eat macaroni: “There must be steroids in macaroni!”

Ah, Messrs. Colvert and Swardson, your wit is such to rival the masters.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Happy Madison movie without the usual high doses of homophobia, and so we not only get a wide array of seventh grade trash talk (the nerds are “the Three Muske-queers,” shouts of “homo!” can be heard in the stands), but, ha ha, one of the bad guy characters is revealed to be a raging queen - for big laughs, the script gives him a companion who wanders about in only a Speedo and comes on to everybody.

Then again, it’s all in keeping with the movie’s overall attitude, which is this: “we may pretend to preach about the evils of bullying, but c’mon, bullying is fun!” Why else would we get a scene with Reggie Jackson (yes, that Reggie Jackson, sigh) teaching the nerds about the joys of mailbox baseball? Why else would the script wheel out little people for cheap comic relief, mostly in the form of Yoda jokes? Why else would the movie claim to be all for the power of freaks and geeks, then spend its entire running time telling us what total losers freaks and geeks are? And why else would the filmmakers insist on gloating as these grown men beat the snot out of a bunch of kids, again and again and again? This is, for all its supposed charms, a very nasty little movie.

And it’s such a bad one, too, bottom of the barrel in every regard. There’s not a single scene here that’s enjoyable, not a single line of dialogue that’s of any interest, not a single plot development that works. “The Benchwarmers” might have a decent premise at its core, but nobody developing that premise has the slightest knowledge of how to actually handle comedy. Welcome back, Happy Madison. You’ve blown it again.

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