Movies about nerds and misfits banding together to take on bullies in some type of sporting event has been a Hollywood staple since the hilarious The Bad News Bears was released in 1976. Full of offensive language, racial stereotypes, and inappropriate behavior, the movie also provided a strong message about the win-at-all-cost attitude that is ruining youth sports. It didn’t overpreach this message, it occurred naturally in the actions of the characters. A slew of copycats has followed throughout the years, most failing to live up to the standard set by The Bad News Bears . Movie history is littered with these attempts; The Mighty Ducks, The Ladybugs, and Necessary Roughness to name a few. But thanks to producer Adam Sandler and director Dennis Dugan, a new low has been reached, The Benchwarmers, now out on DVD.
The Benchwarmers of the title are Gus (Rob Schneider), Richie (David Spade), and Clark (Jon Heder). Richie and Clark are total nerds with no athletic ability who join Gus on a local baseball field to take a few swings after work. A team of jerky Little Leaguers arrives and speaking to adults in a way only kids in movies do, orders them off the field. Gus challenges them to game and thanks almost solely to his ability, the trio creams the kids. Eventually their ability and willingness to beat kids in elementary school attracts the attention of Mel (Jon Lovitz), a computer billionaire nerd with a similarly nerdy son. Mel convinces the guys that he will sponsor a tournament where the Benchwarmers team will play all the “notoriously mean” Little League teams (what, do they have a ranking in USA today?)
The plot for this movie is primarily just to deliver a series of fart, booger, spit, crotch, and vomit jokes interspersed with ad-libs from the SNL trained leads. I’m all for a guy eating a booger, but once that passes by in the first minute of the movie, this comedy is just not funny. I had, if not high, at least middling hopes for this. Heder and Spade are both funny guys and I like baseball, but for most of the movie I just kept waiting for something, ANYTHING, funny to happen. It never did. Some of the jokey subplots involved Richie’s brother Howie (writer and co-producer Nick Swardson) who is afraid of sunlight and screams a lot (he could be the most annoying character ever) and one of the opposing coaches (played by ESPN football analyst and shitty actor Sean Salisbury) being gay and having a very out boyfriend. Reportedly a lot of the comic comebacks in the movie were ad-libbed, so it is difficult to tell if the blame is on the script or just that the premise didn’t give these guys a chance to say or do anything funny.
It’s not all bad, though. Apparently realizing that three vomit jokes brings about diminishing returns, the movie is pretty short, 77 minutes if you don’t count the closing credits. The baseball looks pretty good. Everyone’s favorite “Prison Break” cellmate, Amaury Nolasco, is funnier than the better-known leads as a ringer brought in to play for one of the opposing teams. Also, Spade has a funny line about misidentifying Reggie Jackson as Dr. Dre. That’s really about it.
I realize that quibbling about plot is missing the point entirely in this type of movie, and if the movie were actually funny, I wouldn’t bother. But a couple things really annoyed me. Schneider’s Gus isn’t a nerd and ends up being almost the sole reason the team wins most of its early games. So what you really have is a movie showing that a 30 year old man can pitch shut outs and hit home runs against twelve year olds. Everyone treats it like it is some great moral victory, but really, it’s what should be expected. Later, there is a falling out between Gus and the other players due to something that happened when he was in school. The fact that he is a great guy and good friend to these guys is thrown out the window because of something he did fifteen years ago that he repeatedly states was wrong and that he is sorry for.
Even movies that rely on bodily function jokes need to have a good moral these days. So, we get the moral that everyone should have a chance to play sports and you shouldn’t bully nerds. Of course, rather then letting that idea become obvious to people through the actions of the characters (relying on the audience to be smarter than a box of hammers), the script includes several speeches which voice those sentiments directly. So after watching a kid fart in another kids face, we hear “boy, why can’t we all share the field, everyone should have a chance to play.”
Often when advertising a movie, the print ads and commercials will say “from the people who brought you…..” and list whatever movie they think will bring in the crowds. This movie is from the people that brought you The Animal, Problem Child,Grandma’s Boy, Deuce Bigalow,, and Dickie Roberts. If, as you read those titles, you start to guffaw remembering the times people get whacked in the crotch or vomit in someone’s face, then this movie is for you. If you expect your comedies to be entertaining or funny, steer well clear of this crapola.
The disc looks pretty good in 1.85 Anamorphic widescreen, although there isn’t much in the movie that requires a sharp picture. The sound is also good and that’s important because David Spade tends to deliver some of his ad-libs in a sly aside voice which can be hard to hear.
Although the list of extras isn’t bad, there is one obvious extra which should be here but isn’t, ad lib outtakes. Both commentaries note that a lot of the film was ad-libbed by Schneider, Spad, Heder, Lovitz, and others. They should have put together some of the unused lines in a little outtake reel. It probably would have been funnier than the actual movie. Although I typically enjoy listening to commentaries, I groaned when I saw that this DVD has two commentaries. I simply did not want to sit through this movie two more times after watching it the first time.
“Commentary by Director Dennis Dugan” - I have to admit that I listened to this commentary after watching the movie and hating it, and then watching the Spade/Heder commentary. I was sick of the movie at this point so my assessment of Dugan’s commentary might be harsher than warranted. A nice person might describe Dugan as laid back while delivering the commentary. A jerk, like myself, might call it boring and lazy. He says almost nothing of interest and doesn’t even seem to be putting in enough effort to try. He even notes that he uses the phrase, “he’s a really great actor” about almost everyone in the movie. Dugan seems to be try ironic humor quite often, but it never works.
“Commentary by David Spade and Jon Heder” - After the fiasco that was the actual movie, I thought it might actually be funnier to watch it with this commentary. It is, but only slightly. Spade gets off a few funny lines about the movie but not enough to justify going through the movie again after you’ve seen it once with the regular dialogue track. Spade seems especially interested in defending the movie against its critics. It actually gets to be a little funny because he mentions a few times that he didn’t read any reviews of the movie and then starts every third comment with “one critic said…..” or “the critics thought it was wrong that we…..”
“Deleted Scenes” - There are four deleted scenes. Imagine scenes that were cut out of this movie. It’s pretty damn scary to contemplate. Enough said.
“Featurettes” - There are four featurettes each about five to eight minutes long. Three of the four try to look at different aspects of the movie and intercut cast members talking about the subject with relevant scenes from the film. “Nerds vs. Bullies” discusses that age old question; which one were you? Surprisingly, no one admitted to being a bully, even Bill Romanowski, which has got to be crap. “Play Ball” is a general discussion of how great baseball is and how much everyone in the crew love it. “Mr. October” shows Reggie Jackson behind the scenes while the rest of the cast gushes on how great he was as a player and on his cameo. Finally, the last and least featurette is “Who’s on Deck?” which strings together all of Howie’s appearances in the film. This makes them even less funny than they were in the movie.
This is a pretty bad movie that isn’t redeemed by the DVD features. However, to be fair, if you find the movie funny, you may enjoy the Spade/Heder commentary. The best thing to do is go out and find The Bad News Bears on DVD and watch that instead.