The Benchwarmers strikes out

by Glen Baity

First, some context: I played baseball until 5th grade, and I was terrible at it, but like many kids, I enjoyed it too much to care.

Between grades one and four, sports had been largely an exercise in participation. The coaches played everyone for a few innings, each kid got a few at-bats, and one or two of us even got to slide into home. It was idyllic and pastoral, the essence of America’s pastime, all grass stains and Big League Chew. Consequently, I was a happy little boy in my elastic pants and my clunky, too-tight batting helmet.

Until that first year of Little League, when I was forced to warm the bench with my husky, no-talent ass. I recall peeling myself out of bed one Saturday morning, only to sit and watch my teammates play for nine dull innings while I pondered where it had all gone wrong. At first, I joined my fellow uncoordinated dugout companions in manly cheers of ‘“good eye’” and ‘“attaway,’” but eventually I became so bored and resentful that I vowed to bury my baseball card collection as soon as I got home, Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card and all.

My team won that game, of course. The coach, in his delirious post-game speech, singled me out, saying ‘“Baity, we’ll definitely get you in the next game, even if it’s just pinch running.’”

Gee, coach. Thanks.

I say all this only so you’ll know it was with a most sympathetic mindset that I embarked on The Benchwarmers. I thought that, even if it were stupid (as it almost certainly would be), I’d at least get to revisit that first flush of disdain toward baseball, and revisit my initial step down the road that would lead me to become an English major and, more tellingly, a basketball fan. I liked the idea, and relished the fantasy of getting the best of those jocks that would only become more insufferable as we all moved on to middle school. Put me in, coach. I’m ready.

Even with my unhealthy predisposition working in its favor, The Benchwarmers succeeded in making me laugh only a handful of times, and I didn’t get any of the vicarious thrill I’d hoped for. The film is about three misfit friends, landscaper Gus (Rob Schneider), video store clerk Richie (David Spade, who still has the nerve to mock other people’s movies) and paperboy Clark (John Heder, Napoleon Dynamite), who form a three-man squad after saving a dorky kid from the teenage bullies on the local baseball team. The trio starts showing up at area teams’ practices, giving those meanies who dole out wedgies and titty twisters to the less genetically fortunate a taste of their own medicine.

And that’s the movie. Within the first five minutes, there’s a booger joke, a fart joke and a diarrhea joke, all of which pretty much set the tone. None of them are very funny or well-placed. Indeed, whenever the film finds itself out of material (which is often), Heder simply puts something disgusting ‘— a booger, a smashed beetle, what have you ‘— in his mouth. His presence in the film is strange, since his is the only star on the rise out of all the low-rent SNL alums here. It’s hard to tell if Heder is a one-trick pony (Clark is essentially Napoleon Dynamite without the ‘fro), or if Spade and Schneider are just dragging him down.

The Benchwarmers, oddly enough, doesn’t bother very much with its actual subject matter. The script is almost entirely consumed with non sequitur poop jokes, and there are some downright puzzling attempts at humor ‘— like a tiresome running gag about an agoraphobic character (Nick Swardson) ‘— that are more confusing than the infield fly rule. The jokes that aren’t nonsensical are almost sub-mental: wouldn’t you know it, one of the macho rival coaches turns out to be a closet homosexual. Har-de-har-har.

There are also numerous product placements for Pizza Hut, Pepsi, NetZero, Toyota, Sony, even Orville Redenbacher. While I’d normally protest a film prostituting itself like this, I’m more disappointed in Pizza Hut for attaching its name to this piece of crap. This is the same restaurant that sponsors the ‘“Book It!’” program?

The Benchwarmers had an opportunity to be a good family comedy along the lines of School of Rock, but there’s so much age-inappropriate humor it couldn’t really be considered a kid’s movie. So who is it for? Really, I doubt most adults walk around with enough bitterness to enjoy seeing a 13-year-old jock having his face farted on, and the sexual innuendo is just creepy no matter how old you are.

In truth, I realized long ago that I just wasn’t made for baseball, and took up the saxophone instead. I’d recommend that, or any remotely constructive pursuit, over wasting an hour and a half of your life on The Benchwarmers. The film deals with well-worn subject matter, but it has not a whit of intelligence, heart or humor about it, and it brings to light an uncomfortable truth: some films should stay on the bench because they just plain suck.

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