Review: ‘The Benchwarmers’

Yet another by-the-numbers, toilet-humor-driven Happy Madison production, but there’s still a heart beating somewhere underneath it all while being exactly what fans of Adam Sandler’s production company expect.

Mild-mannered Gus (Rob Schneider) and two loser his buddies Clark (Jon Heder) and Richie (David Spade) rescue a kid from a team bullying him on a baseball practice field. Gus challenges them for the field: the three of them (the adult losers) vs. their whole little league baseball club (ages 8-13). Gus beats the team with no help from his buddies, a fact not lost on rich guy Mel (Jon Lovitz), the father of the rescued boy. After seeing how mad the little league’s all-American jock coach (Craig Kilborn) was for his team getting beat by three nerds, Mel proposes giving a way a free baseball stadium as a lure in return for the chance to humiliate every little league team in the local area… by three grown adults who likely never got to play as kids themselves. The team’s name: The Benchwarmers.

If that pitch for the plot sounded unlikely, watching it in execution is even less believable. But this is an Adam Sandler-instigated comedy movie, and their are rules to being successful. First act, the set-up. Second act, the over-the-top funny stuff. Third act, tug at heartstrings and wind down the movie. Sprinkle liberally with bathroom humor and intentional one-dimensional characters, and there you have it! But lately there’s been a little more to films produced by Sandler’s Happy Madison production company, and that’s a dose of heart right where it should be. You’d have to be a true black-hearted evil bastard not to feel a little something.

Yes, it’s manipulative, but it works. Go back and look at Sandler’s own 50 First Dates and look at all the missed opportunities to make fun of what must be the funniest brain condition ever… unless, of course, it’s happening to you. By the end of the that film, if you’re not looking away from your spouse trying to hide the tears welling up, you weren’t really paying attention. Essentially, Sandler & Co. have tweaked a winning formula into a true, across-the-board crowd-pleaser with the extra added bonus of pretty much getting away with whatever they want as long the right thing happens by the end. You won’t know whether to roll your eyes or smile like a fool, but you will know you’ve been entertained.

Jon Heder deserves special credit as channeling his Napoleon Dynamite character without duplicating him; Heder is quickly showing strength as a lovable losing straight man that somehow reminds us all of someone we know that always a step behind or not paying attention. Rob Schneider takes charge but refrains from dominating, while David Spade provides a perfect instigator for Heder’s pratfalls. Amazingly, no one group in the film is shown as any smarter than the other, just single-minded in their roles as the jocks or the nerds. Remember, just because you’re big and strong doesn’t mean you can’t be outnumbered and surrounded by enough nerds to bring you down. Kinda like zombies, you know?

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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