The wind-up: “The Benchwarmers” arrives courtesy of Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production outfit, and bears all the usual hallmarks thereof: It’s a low-budget comedy, stars a crew of Sandler’s compatriots from SNL and boasts a plot straight out of a family film factory “goosed up” with PG-13 gay, racial and scatology humor. You know what you’re getting into if you go see it, though this time it’s not actually all that bad.
And the pitch: Landscaper Gus (Rob Schneider) is the nominal leader of a three perpetual-loser buddies, also including possibly-retarded paperboy Clark (Jon Heder, aka Napolean Dynamite) and geeky/sleazy video clerk Richie (David Spade.) When the trio observe members of the local little league team roughing some of the local “nerds,” they challenge the bullies to a scrimmage game and end up winning thanks to Gus’ previously-undisclosed athletic expertise. This leads to more challenges and more wins, news of which reaches the ears of nerd-turned-BILLIONAIRE-NERD Mel (Jon Lovitz) who approaches the three with a proposal: That they challenge the entire leagues’ worth of teams, whupping their asses in the name of all athletically-challenged “benchwarmer” youngsters with an ultra-modern baseball stadium as the winner’s prize.
It’s a cute premise, further flavored by a keen (if broad) grasp on the bully/bullied dynamic and an obvious affection for the “nerds” in question: The Benchwarmer’s exploits are covered on websites, and they develop an army of followers drawing inspiration from their “taking on” of the jock-ocracy. Little touches, like Mel’s collection of scifi-memorabilia and the pleasantly strong results of casting the oft-grating Schneider as the straight-man, lift the film considerably. And it plays things interestingly subtle (for the most part) in regards to a plot-mystery involving Gus’ character: After all, it’s a little strange that a guy who pals around with the geek set and is so attuned to the suffering of school-aged misfits is so great at sports himself, not to mention skilled in the arts of bully-fu, no? Hm…
Nice touches aside, it can’t exactly overcome the general problems of Happy Madison’s output: The adult jokes don’t really fit with the overall story, which is more like something out of Disney in the early-70s, and as far as structure goes, well… it doesn’t really have much of one. It’s heart is in the right place, and it’s probably Schneider’s best role, but it doesn’t add up to much.
FINAL RATING: 5/10