In the short time I've been reviewing baseball movies for this site, I haven't seen a film from this sub genre that I can honestly say I hated. Sure, I didn't care for Fever Pitch, but even with Jimmy Fallon's obnoxious man-child character and the blandness of the Farrley Brothers' script, I couldn't say it was terrible. Last month I reviewed Trouble with the Curve, and even though I thought that was a second-rate impersonation of a Clint Eastwood movie, I didn't think it was god awful. Both those movies, I was able to pin-point something about them I liked, whether it was the acting in Trouble, or the life of a die-hard fan in Fever. Although these movies aren't particularly good in my opinion, I still found aspects of the film that did work for me and that I can highlight.
I can't say that about today's installment, The Benchwarmers.
Here's a quick question: how can you tell that a movie is going to be shit? Three words: Happy Madison Productions. Yes, Adam Sandler's comedy shop of horrors which were behind turds like The Master of Disguise, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star, and That's My Boy, made a baseball movie in the spring of 2006. As someone who's seen plenty of movies from Sandler's production company, I can tell you that this ranks as one of the laziest and insulting "comedies" the production company has made. Oh, and did I mention it's directed by Dennis Dugan, the guy who directs many of Sandler's films, including the infamous Jack and Jill, a movie so awful, that it swept at the annual Golden Rasberry Awards ceremonies in 2012.
Here's the background on this "story": Gus (Happy Madison regular Rob Schnider), Richie (SNL-alum David Spade) and Clark (Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder) are all three grown men who were considered "nerds" back in their heyday. Gus is our straight man in this movie, where as the other two have wonderful character tropes: Richie works as a clerk at a videostore, where he spends his time recommending girl-on-girl porn to female customers (yes, really), while Clark spends his time eating insects, being a stereotypical "mama's boy" taken to its extreme and constantly wearing a bicycle helmet, which the movie never once explains. They see a kid named Nelson being bullied by a group of Little League jocks who bully him and hold him down to shart on his face when he refuses to leave the field (because fart jokes are always funny!). The trio come to his rescue, and challenge the mean kids for the right to play on the diamond, even though they were about to start practice and generally have the right to take the field. Let me stop right here and say the obvious: WHY ARE THREE GROWN MEN CHALLENGING A GROUP OF YOUNG BOYS TO GAME OF BASEBALL?????
Despite being outnumbered 2 to1 and Richie and Clark being terrible at playing baseball (no joke, Richie and Clark have never even swung a bat, or played catch before), Gus single-handily beats the jerks though the script saying that he's a decent athlete (via pitching a hitting). This catches the attention of Nelson's dad, Clark (Jon Lovitz) a nerdy billionaire who wants to build a baseball park for kids who can play the game without having to deal with bullies, so he sponsors the trio and puts them into a Little League Tournament, where if they win, they will be given access to the ballpark. They agree, and the Benchwarmers are formed. Yep, that's the "plot", and already there are contradictions and huge plot holes:
- Why does he need Gus, Richie and Clark? He has the finances to build his field of dreams for outcasts like himself and his son, so why put on this tournament?
- There's no way a team would allow to play in a tournament game outnumbered like the Benchwarmers are. They would need to find six other members to join the team. Lastly...
- THERE IS NO WAY, ON GOD'S GREEN EARTH, THAT A LITTLE LEAGUE TOURNAMENT WOULD ALLOW GROWN MEN TO COMPETE AGAINST 8-12 YEAR OLDS!!!
But no - the rest of the film is like this: middle-aged guys constantly beating up on kids, in a league that was made exclusively for them. Also, the remainder of the film is filled with gross-out, sophomoric gags that even Seth MacFarlene wouldn't dare use, including several vomit, fart, piss and shit jokes, a couple of homophobic slus/gags (watching former Chargers Linebacker Sean Sailsbury and Dax Sheppard in nut-huggers, insinuating that he's a former bully who's secretly gay is just straight-up depressing to watch), and near-tasteless Latino stereotyping, where a middle-aged Latino player takes the field during the semi-finals game against the Benchwarmers, and starts helping the opposing team win. Did I mention he's also a straight-up alcoholic? Because nothing says "comedy" like taking a swipe at people who suffer from alcohol addiction!
There's also plenty of infuriating and borderline pointless celebrity cameos, including former baseball superstar and Hall of Fame member Reggie Jackson teaching the trio how to improve their skills (or complete lack thereof), including taking baseball bats and smashing mailboxes; action great Terry Crews as a bullied youth by Gus (there's a subplot where the guys learn that Gus was just as much of a bully when he was young, leading to a cheerfully offensive sequence where one of the victims was a dwarf who was scared psychologically to the point where he ended up in a mental asylum as a ploy to add on unwarranted sentimentality); and sports commentator/radio personality Dan Patrick, to name a few.
But what makes this nasty tripe almost unwatchable is two-fold: First are the abysmal comedic performances by Schnider, Spade, Heder and Nick Swardson, who also co-wrote the screenplay, and is another regular in the Happy Madison stable. Spade has proven he can be funny during his SNL-run and on television with 8 Simple Rules and Rules of Engagement. Here, he's playing the same womanizing character, minus the charm or the sarcasm he laces. Heder half-asses his performance, by playing the same social outcast he played in Napoleon Dynamite, just more obnoxious and gross than in the former movie, where he was annoying, but still an endearing character despite his quirkiness. As the lead character, Schnider tries so hard to play the film's straight man trope, but all it reminds me is that he's essentially playing a second rate version of Vince Vaughn's character in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and starring in a role that is almost tailor-made for Sandler. And frankly, the less said about that comedic hack Swardon, the better. Here's a montage of his character, Howie, Richie's brother, for further proof:
The second, and most important part, is the phony and hypocritical half-hearted attempts at wringing sentimentality from it's cast of characters. Dennis Dugan spends most of the film making fun of these social misfits for their appearance, to the way they act and talk, to how badly they participate in recreational sporting activities, and as one of Gus's tormentors takes the field to give a patronizing speech on how we need to stop bullying others for not being like us and learn to be kinder to each other, despite the fact that we're supposed to laugh when Jerry, the film's main antagonist (played by Craig Kilborn) mocks them and calls the our protagonists "retards" and "homos" thought the the film. This attempt doesn't go anywhere, because at it's core, it's false and completely meaningless. In other words, it's the old adage of having your hypocrisy and eating it too.
I'll be brief and wrap this up: The Benchwarmers is a loathsome, mean-spirited and ghastly unfunny piece of bollox, with equal blame going to the laziness of Nick Swardson's and Allen Covert's script, and the poor direction by Dennis Dugan. The acting mirrors the apathy the writers clearly have for their characters, and as a result, they're bogged down in juvenile material and are given nothing to work. The worst part is the film's shameless and hypocritcal attempts at half-heated sentimentality, despite the fact that the fact we're meant to laugh at they fact they're over-the-top oddballs who get teased and picked on. There isn't a single thing I can save positively about The Benchwarmers, because the filmmakers are mocking these poor bastards, and they expect us to as well, before telling us that we're wrong for doing so. This hideous piece of garbage is not only the worst baseball-related film I've had to review thusfar, but it also joins the ranks with Bad Boys II, Good Luck Chuck, Battlefield Earth, and Revenge of the Fallen as one of the worst films of the last decade.
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