The Benchwarmers (review)

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Dork Side of the Farce

There are entire ecosystems of nightmarish creatures spawned from the hellish depths of comedy gone oh-so wrong in The Benchwarmers, but the most terrifying monster of all may well be unfunnyman Rob Schneider. This is — and it pains me deeply to know that yes, there is a universe in which this phrase must be uttered — Schneider’s attempt to go straight. Schneider is not the “comic” doofus here — he’s the one “normal” guy among a band of losers, a regular joe with a surprising talent for baseball, his own landscaping business, and a beautiful wife who apparently loves him and actually wants to have his baby. Oh, and a deep dark secret that drives everything he does here, which means — and I can’t believe my eyes weren’t burned out of my head when I witnessed this — that he gets to perform the woefully wrong-headed Oscar-clip scene, the moment of dramatic emotional revelation during which, oh yes, his eyes actually well up with tears.

This moment is not meant to be comical.
Think about that: A grossout comedy featuring three vomit scenes, two with chunks, and a grown man who eats his own boogers in public is the movie that Rob Schneider believes is his One Big Chance to be seen as a Serious Actor.

I think that’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard.

That is but the most spectacular misstep in a flick that is nothing but missteps, even when you grade on the Farrelly Brothers curve. That Benchwarmers is nonsensical on its face — and not in one of those juicy bizarro-funny ways — seems not to concern it one whit. If David Spade’s dorky video store clerk can pick up lovely blonds not in spite of but apparently because of his Prince Valiant bowl cut, apparent reluctance to ever remove his employee ID tag, and clumsy attempts at flirty banter, then why, again, is he a “dork”?

The usual litany of groin injuries, elderly people being crude, and abuse to defenseless animals… you expect that from your typical juvenile pile of cinematic idiocy. Not so much: a scene in which a character enters only to comment on something that happened before he arrived and could not possibly have observed. It’s not that the screenwriters were sending up, Monty Python style, filmic language, or offering existentialist commentary on the ties that bind individuals together in a common cause. They just couldn’t be bothered to make sense.

The number-two blunder, after Schneider’s soul-destroying performance, is the peculiar revenge-of-the-nerds, geeks-against-jocks rationale for the entire movie. That grown men — like Schneider’s (The Longest Yard, Around the World in 80 Days) “I’m not a nerd, I just hang out with them,” Spade’s (The Emperor’s New Groove) hopeless spaz, and Jon Heder’s (Napoleon Dynamite) booger-eating simpleton — might feel manly engaging in ritualistic baseball competition with Little Leaguers is pretty much par for the course for these kinds of idiot movies. Ditto the fact that though the film is supposedly championing the spazzes and the dorks and the simple manchildren of the world — even when, as with Schneider’s character, the definition doesn’t apply to him, except that it does, seemingly, merely because the character is played by Schneider — these poor unfortunates are the butt of the movie’s pointlessly mean-spirited humor

No, it’s that the whole ethos of the film feels at least two decades out of date. The geeks-against-jocks contest is already over, and the geeks won… or, at a bare minimum, we’re at a long-standing draw. Comic-book conventions don’t get egged by kiddie baseball teams, as one of the movie’s tedious attempts at humor suggests — they draw crowds so huge the cops have to be called in. Everybody knows Star Wars, and like it or not, replica lightsabers are sold on late-night TV commercials like they were blenders or weedwhackers or any other ordinary household appliance.

Like it or not? Why, it’s almost as if The Benchwarmers is decrying the triumph of the nerds, that it misses the days when it was more socially acceptable for the bigger, stronger, more popular kids to relentless torment those lower in the pecking order, or that it laments the arrival of the iPods, the GPS-enabled cell phones, and Internet culture that made geeks out of us all.

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