Even as a Happy Madison Production tossed together by Adam Sandler for about a buck and a quarter to showcase his otherwise unemployable buddy, Rob Schneider, The Benchwarmers plumbs new depths.
This is less a movie than a catalog of bodily excretions and secretions. Aside from the obligatory assortment of flatulence “gags” (fla]tulence having become the last word in humor these days), we’re treated to puke jokes, urine humor, nose-picking frivolity (not to mention the post-picking ingestion that ensues), saliva-spewing shenanigans and more scatological specimens than would likely be encountered by a street sweeper following a parade of pachyderms. The only things overlooked are those that wouldn’t get by with a PG-13 rating (even one of those sneaks in by affording Jon Lovitz’s character the last name of Schmegmer).
It’s so sufficiently charming it makes one long for the sophisticated wit of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, which should tell you most of what you need to know.
There’s more, however. The basic idea of teaming Schneider with David Spade (who hasn’t had a hit since Chris Farley died) and Jon Heder (who’s getting all the mileage possible out of his one-note Napoleon Dynamite persona) may have looked good on paper — at least as a way of making Schneider look funnier than he is — but in execution, it’s odd more than anything else.
One of the biggest problems — apart from the bizarre aspect of trying to palm off the 28-year-old Heder as a contemporary of the 40-plus Schneider and Spade — is that it reduces Schneider to the level of playing straight man to two unfunny comics.
The premise doesn’t help. Schneider plays Gus, a lawn-maintenance guy, who happens to see a gang of bullies tormenting a kid (Max Prado) on a ball field and breaks things up, earning the admiration of the kid and the enmity of his tormenters. This snowballs into a weird battle between Gus and his incredibly nerdy friends, Richie (Spade) and Clark (Heder), and a bunch of 12-year-olds. Despite the fact that only Gus is any good at baseball (the others redefine ineptitude), the basic concept still rests on the supposedly hilarious spectacle of seeing adults best kids at sports. That the kids are obnoxious is the only mitigating factor, and it’s not really enough.
Similarly, the whole theme of these guys as the spokesmen for the rights of nerds to get back at their tormentors has more than a whiff of both hypocrisy and wrong-headedness about it. In theory, it may be about empowering youthful geeks; however, the reality is different, predicated on making fun of the very characters it purports to be championing. And even were that not the case, the central idea is ultimately less about empowering than vengence, making them more like their tormentors.
And that’s hardly surprising since Sandler, at bottom, is the champion of the 19-year-old “typical” American male mindset — reveling in crudeness, casual mean-spiritedness and an utterly juvenile attitude toward sexuality. This, of course, means that we’re not to be spared such Sandlerian stock-in-trade items as witless gay jokes, adolescent concepts of the world at large, and painfully unfunny cameos that exist for no reason other than to impress his own circle of “buds” — along with the veritable flood of bodily waste matter.
Even at 80 minutes, the results here feel overlong and padded (is watching Reggie Jackson teach Schneider and his friends how to destroy mailboxes from a moving vehicle really amusing to anyone?), and the only possible bright side to any of this is that it helps to keep Sandler’s entourage of dubiously talented buddies off welfare. Rated PG-13 for crude and suggestive humor, and for language.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke