Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Benchwarmers

THE BENCHWARMERS (Dennis Dugan, 2006)

In THE BENCHWARMERS a trio of adult misfits stand up for those kids riding the pine or not even allowed on a baseball team. Gus (Rob Schneider), Richie (David Spade), and Clark (Jon Heder) won’t be mistaken for Murderers’ Row. Only Gus has any skill, but his ability to clobber home runs and strike out his pint-sized opponents is enough to carry the team to a win in a schoolyard challenge.

Nerdy millionaire Mel (Jon Lovitz), the father of a child picked on by the junior jocks, finds out about Gus, Richie, and Clark beating the Little Leaguers and decides to put on a tournament. To entice participation in the competition Mel offers a majestic baseball stadium as the prize, but his motivation is for the Benchwarmers to show up the bullying athletes and their obnoxious parents.

Through his own films and those from his production company, Adam Sandler has assembled an unofficial repertory company that makes movies about freakish, innocent man-children. These arrested development comedies are often as lowbrow as possible, trafficking primarily in the eternal adolescent male amusement with bodily excretions.

In that way, THE BENCHWARMERS is no different than other Happy Madison productions like GRANDMA’S BOY and the DEUCE BIGALOW films or the Sandler movies BILLY MADISON and BIG DADDY. In spite of the film’s juvenile mindset and gross-out gags, THE BENCHWARMERS looks practically mature next to those other movies. Schneider’s Gus is about as normal of a character these films has ever seen. That helps balance the lunacy that brothers Richie, Clark, and agoraphobic Howie (co-screenwriter Nick Swardson) bring.

The screenplay has just the sketch of an idea for a movie, and the jokes seem pretty dire. That THE BENCHWARMERS produces laughs semi-regularly should be credited to the actors. There’s nothing subtle about what Schneider, Spade, and Heder are doing in their performances, but they play immaturity in all its amusing awkwardness rather than the cuddliness Sandler tries to bring to his characters. Lovitz, whose eccentric character looks ordinary by the film's standard, steals practically each of his scenes.

THE BENCHWARMERS is funnier than it probably had any right to be, but the tedious repetition of the tournament games strands the film on second rather than bringing it in to score.

Grade: C+

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