Directed by: Dennis Dugan
Written by: Allen Covert, Nick Swardson
Starring: Rob Schneider, David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Jon Heder, Craig Kilborn, Molly Sims
Released: 2006 / Genre: Comedy / Country: USA / IMDB
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I’ve been very critical of director Dennis Dugan over the last few years. Who could blame me? He gave the world the awful Saving Silverman and followed it up with the spiteful racial slurs of National Security (a film that embodied bad taste). So, with trepidation I began to watch his 2006 film The Benchwarmers with little in the way of expectation. What I learned was with a good script and some energetic performances, Dugan can turn out a decent movie. In fact, this is the best film he’s made since Happy Gilmore.
The film concerns grown-up ‘nerds’ Gus (Scheider), Richie (Spade), and Clark (Heder) who, after witnessing a helpless kid getting bullied by the little league baseball team, decide to form the ‘Benchwarmers’. With the help of billionaire Mel (Lovitz) they start a baseball competition in order to beat the little league teams who won’t let the weirdos, geeks, and computer nerds play ball.
Essentially, and the main reason the film is so delightfully entertaining, is that it’s basically about adults beating the hell out of scrawny little teenagers. There’s a fabulous moment when Richie gets his first hit. Remembering the jibes the chubby, young catcher had given him, he rounds third base and decides, instead of going easy on the twelve year old, he’ll jump in the air and fly, feet first, straight into his head mask. The child, dazed and obviously confused, hits the floor semi-unconscious. Talk about pulling no punches. There’s a great undercurrent to the humour in that it utilises childish sarcasm and silly physical comedy in a way that mocks the stereotypes inherent in young culture. The film accepts that children can be very cruel to both other children and adults due to their less-informed and polarized, pop-culture dominated view on the world, and basically mocks them for it. It’s refreshing to see a film that sheds the innocence of childhood, and The Benchwarmers certainly reminds of that other cynical baseball movie The Bad News Bears with Walter Mathau.
The film also seems to be made by a group of people either, continuously high on something or, thanks to the catering crew, given a diet consisting of far too much sugar during production. You can only applaud the introduction of baseball legend Reggie Jackson with an old photo depicting a young Reggie with a huge afro, or Jon Lovitz’s mechanical butler who delivers any sandwich your heart desires from its plastic belly. You’ve also got to love the billionaire’s home which is decked out with Star Wars figures, and made to look like the dinner hall from the Starship Enterprise. When Lovitz turns up in Kit from Knightrider you know the film is celebrating the sort of nerd-culture that makes some unfortunate children the target for spiteful bullies.
You’ve also got to give the film credit for the performances, especially Jon Heder (from Napoleon Dynamite fame) who is basically a twelve year old in a twenty year old body. He is the highlight of the movie with some wonderfully sardonic asides. Amongst many excellent moments there’s a great scene when Heder, whose favourite meal is macaroni, asks what steroids are, and gets the reply that it makes your “Pee Pee” smaller. Heder suddenly has a revelation and says, “there must be steroids in macaroni!”.
The Benchwarmers is a delightful comedy that, while the kids laugh at the insane nature of it all, adults will be chuckling in the background thinking they can finally get their own back on the pesky little tearaways. Dugan allows the film to get preachy towards the end but it moves along at quite pace, clocking in at under eighty minutes, so hardly outstays its welcome. It’s refreshing, crazy at times, cynical throughout, and sweet when it needs to be, but above all else, it’s one funny movie.