While watching “Benchwarmers,” I kept thinking the film could’ve been a lot worse. Yes, it traffics in the lowbrow humor that is an Adam Sandler staple, but it’s a slick, easy to swallow comedy with the occasional hilarious bit of absurdist gold up its sleeve.After witnessing a local little league team bully a nerd who just wanted to play baseball, Gus (Rob Schneider) challenges the kids to a game to settle the score for freaks everywhere. Recruiting his friends, video store geek Richie (David Spade), and mama’s boy Clark (Jon Heder), Gus takes his ragtag team on the road, challenging all comers who want to prove themselves against this hopeless trio.
"It is what it is, and as junk, it isn't all that bad"
Well, outside of the jokes about nose-picking, animal feces, small genitalia, homophobia, little people, agoraphobia, urinating in the shower, flatulence, and co-starring the reigning king of unfunny, Jon Heder, “Benchwarmers” is actually a lighthearted, passably funny motion picture.
This baseball flick comes from the Adam Sandler factory, and he’s called up two of his best players to write the screenplay: stand-up comic Nick Swardson and Happy Madison regular Allen Covert. This duo also wrote last January’s barely acceptable “Grandma’s Boy,” so they know the ins and outs of fundamental dumb comedy, along with playing directly to Sandler’s core audience. The recipe for Sandler-esque cinema isn’t complicated; it usually involves a lot of falling down, laughing at the weak, and a substantial amount of bodily function humor. He can also be counted on for some of the best non sequitur humor in the business today, but “Benchwarmers” is more interested in how many fingers it can shove up a nose than to try anything inventively sneaky.
The film is intended for pre-teen boys, leaving the writers and director Dennis Dugan (“Happy Gilmore,” “Big Daddy”) little room to go for the throat. Sadly, a good chunk of “Benchwarmers” is devoted to poo-poo, pee-pee, and general baseball-to-groin comedy, which plays hard to the mouthbreathers, but leaves out the critical fun factor for everyone else. Sure, watching Heder dig for gold (which, wait for it, he eventually eats) will make a child laugh, but how about trying to make everyone laugh? Sandler is actually capable of achieving this, but his presence here is only as a producer. A shame.
Better is the film’s attention to the three moronic lead characters, as they learn the skills of the sport (even of their hands have to taped to the bat) and bask in the riches of their manager, the “Star Wars” loving billionaire, Mel (Jon Lovitz). Letting the actors spaz around the field in the game montages is admittedly pretty fun footage, sold with typical snarky shine by Spade (who looks like he’s having real fun here), and a strangely restrained performance by Schneider. As for Heder, I’ll be kind and say this: remind me where the appeal is again? As one-note an actor as they make ‘em these days, Heder makes Rob Schneider look like a graduate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Keep on pickin’ away, Jon. All the way to obscurity.
The more absurdist gags are still here in the film, just tucked away in the corners so not to distract from moments where Spade gets wailed in the testicles with an errant rock. I loved seeing the richly gifted Swardson in a supporting role as Richie’s agoraphobic brother, who thinks the sun is a monster awaiting his every move. There’s also a goofy throwaway bit with the team’s statistician: a 10 year-old with a spitting problem when he speaks. A final act plot turn, where Gus confronts a mentally iffy little person he bullied as a child, doesn’t quite have the hilarity the writers believe it does, but it’s a small road bump in a pretty slickly paced movie.“Benchwarmers” is a truly dumb comedy (even for kids), but in that respect, it’s agreeable, even if the film itself doesn’t aspire to even that softball level of praise.
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originally posted: 04/08/06 13:56:17