"The Benchwarmers," the latest slice of no-brainer juvenilia from Adam Sandler production company Happy Madison, begins with a perfect indication of the quality level to follow, and concludes with a comment on how stupid the audience is. In the first minutes, we are treated to booger-picking, booger-eating, and a kid squatting to fart in another boy's face. Before the end credits, there will be feces smeared on someone's cheek, two scenes of projectile vomiting (one that lands in the face of another character), urinating in the shower, more farting, a dog that gets run over by a lawnmower and is shaved on one side of his body, three squirrels being killed by a baseball, an albino horrified by the sun, a little person who wants to be a wizard, and multiple instances of unnecessary homosexual stereotypes. As for the film's last line"What a waste of time!"it's a harbinger of doom that comes too late.
Professional gardener Gus (Rob Schneider), helmet-haired video store clerk Richie (David Spade) and helmet-wearing paperboy Clark (Jon Heder) are best friends who always seem to be living their lives on the outside looking in. After a run-in with some middle school bullies taunting a peer on the community baseball field, they get an idea: confront their unpopular school days and fight for the rights of nerds everywhere by taking onand beatingall of the Little League teams in the area.
"The Benchwarmers" is directed by Dennis Dugan (2003's "National Security
"), a specialist in cinema mediocrity who has actually regressed as a filmmaker since his days working on 1990's "Problem Child." Along with Sandler regulars Allen Covert and Nick Swardson (2006's "Grandma's Boy
") slapping some random words down on paper and calling it a screenplay, Dugan & Co. have made a PG-13 film targeting the 12-17 age demographic that has the intelligence level of an infant. The baseball-playing scenes are strung together by the barest of coherent plots, with a preference for scatological toilet humor so lazy, lame and redundant it was met by crickets in the packed screening of predominately kids. If you can't even get a 10-year-old to laugh at a fart joke, you know you're in trouble.
With a fully developed screenplay to work from and riff off of, leading men Rob Schneider (2005's "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo
"), David Spade (2003's "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star
") and Jon Heder (2005's "Just Like Heaven
") could have been a part of something special. All three have their respective talents when it comes to comedythe former two worked together on "Saturday Night Live" in the '90s, and the latter has become iconic for 2004's dryly delightful "Napoleon Dynamite
." They definitely show charisma with each other, but they are left stranded in front of the camera with nothing clever to say and a friendship never sufficiently developed. Schneider pulls back to deliver a potentially sweet and understated performance as Gus, the sole married one of the trio, but his subplot involving wife Liz's (Molly Sims) determination to reproduce and Gus's trepidation with becoming a father isn't exactly dynamic.
As for Spade's acerbic Richie and Heder's childlike Clark, it is particularly confusing that they are portrayed as being buddies since they were kids. With Richie in his late-thirties and Clark obviously still in his twenties, the casting is majorly flawed. Why a beautiful young woman (Erinn Bartlett) who works at Pizza Hut for the sole purpose of providing product placement would show an interest in the freaky-looking Richie is also left unexplained, except to satisfy the need for a romance. And a joke involving a billionaire father (Jon Lovitz) who owns the talking sports car K.I.T.T. from "Knight Rider" is feeble at best; who in the audience of young teens will have ever even heard of that mid-'80s television series?
At 80 minutes, "The Benchwarmers" is so mercifully short that the movie is already at the semi-finals of the season by the time the first act feels like it should be ending. The scant running time is appreciable, but also symbolic of the cheapness of the material. In bringing the project to the screen, everyone involved seemingly stopped trying when they got the three lead actors and trusted that their appearances alone would garner laughs. Parading out mean ethnic, sexual and disabled stereotypes simply doesn't cut it, and as a result there are only two forgettably funny moments and not one big laugh to be had. 2005's "Bad News Bears
" remake only puts "The Benchwarmers" to greater shame; that Billy Bob Thornton starrer was sharp and comedically incendiary in a way this film could only dream about. If there can be a compliment paid to "The Benchwarmers" outside of perhaps the catchy soundtrack, it is that the picture manages to never be boring even when it is a complete waste of talent, film stock and the audience's time and money. The sad thing is that Sony Pictures and Revolution Studios, who refused to screen this in advance for the press because they know they have trash on their hands and also know that kids will go see it anyway, are laughing all the way to the bank.