March 13, 2006

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The Benchwarmers (PG-13)
reviewed by Amy Diaz

Rob Schneider proves that he’s not always the worst thing about a movie with the dork-positive comedy The Benchwarmers.

The mere presence of Schneider usually causes me to inwardly groan — oh, brother, I think, here we go, back to the dismal comedy of Saturday Night Live in the early to mid 1990s. But Schneider here plays the Adam Sandler-type, regular-ish Joe role with a surprising lack of painful mugging, leaving the freaksome behavior and tiresome barrage of booger jokes to the more special-ed-ish characters played by (in order of least embarrassing to most) David Spade, Jon Heder (just riffing on his Napoleon Dynamite character), Jon Lovitz (who is better used in his Subway commercials than in the entirety of this movie) and Craig Kilborn. Kilborn is particularly squirm-inducing in the embarrassment he causes because this is now the second or third of the “arrogant jerk” roles he’s played in such down-market comedies. From late-night host to supporting character in a Rob Schneider movie — yikes, that has to sting.

Gus (Schneider) owns his own landscaping business and is on the verge of fatherhood with his desperate-to-conceive wife Liz (Molly Sims). But he’s not quite ready to grow up due to some childhood issues related to bullying. In adulthood, he tries to stick up for the little guy, be that guy a nerdy kid like Nelson (Max Prado) or an arrested-development adult like video store weenie Richie (Spade) or helmet-wearing paper-boy Clark (Heder). When all three of these misfits have a run in with some meaner, more athletic kids at the local Little League diamond, Gus challenges the kids to a baseball game and beats them, more or less single-handedly. This gets Nelson’s father Mel (Jon Lovitz), a dork who made it big, thinking — if these three grown dorks can play the kid-jocks of the world and beat them, perhaps they can earn a little respect for the dork-kids who usually can’t get off the bench on the teams their parents force them to join. Mel arranges a tournament, promising the jocks that the winners will score themselves a shiny new stadium.

The Benchwarmers is the same mix of bodily-fluid and humiliation-related humor that you find in any Schneider movie — though unlike say, Deuce Bigalow European Gigolo, the humor here sticks to gross-out gags but stays away from most sex-related gags, making it friendlier to the audience of teenage boys and their little brothers that the film is undoubtedly made for. While the film clearly wants “be kind to nerds” to serve as its takeaway message, you can’t help but think that it’s all just a setup to work in extra booger jokes. And if booger jokes are your thing (I mean, really your thing because there are a lot of them), perhaps The Benchwarmers will make you feel something other than extremely sad for its cast. D


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