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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Rob Schneider, David Spade, Jon Heder, Nick Swardson
DIRECTOR
Dennis Dugan
SCREENPLAY
Allen Covert, Nick Swardson
MPAA RATING
PG-13
RUNNING TIME
85 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Sony
 "The Benchwarmers" Review 
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It takes a very special person to enjoy "The Benchwarmers."

I am such a person.

I admit it. I enjoy Adam Sandler movies, and I've gotten at least modest enjoyment out of nearly every film from his production company, Happy Madison. Heck, even the recent flop "Grandma's Boy" had a certain charm to it.

"The Benchwarmers" is just plain WRONG on so many levels.

Think about the characters. The three leads are all thirtysomethings who were impacted by childhood bullying to such a degree that it has clearly impacted their normal developmental processes.

There's Gus. As played by Rob Schneider, Gus is the "together" guy of this rather infantile threesome. Gus is employed, married to quite the hottie, and seemingly fairly well-spoken. Schneider, more subdued than usual, is actually quite effective in a role that requires almost no stretch.

Then, There's Richie. As played by David Spade, Richie is a painfully shy, never been kissed video store clerk with a "Dutch Boy" type haircut and who lives in a small apartment with his "Dutch Boy" agoraphobic brother, Howie (Nick Swardson, a near master at portraying socially inept, infantile characters).

Finally, there's Clark. Clark is, in fact, my favorite character here. Jon Heder basically does a dumbed down version of Napoleon Dynamite and creates a character who is constantly sweet, frequently funny and who frequently had me going "AWWWWWWWWWWWW." Clark is a paperboy who lives with his mom who, according to himself, has not even ever talked to a girl. Once you see Clark, it's fairly easy to believe it. Though the over-the-top stereotype of being "slow" is a bit mean-spirited at times it never completely crosses the line into offensiveness.

The script, by Allen Covert and Nick Swardson, follows the typical Sandler route of gross-out humor, juvenile situations and those occasional really sweet moments. I am, admittedly, a Covert fan as an actor and writer. Covert does a marvelous job at writing simple, brief scenes that just endear you to his characters.

The basic premise of the film centers around these three misfits taking a stand for all the nerds who never got a chance to play baseball. As adults, in essence, they stand up to the bullies for all the kids who can't stand up for themselves.

Therein lies the basic problem with the film. While the message of the film is striving to be a "statement" about inclusion and getting along, there's something that just always feels inappropriate about having this message delivered through the vehicle of thirty-something males taking advantage of their younger teen opposition. Do these bullies deserve a lesson? Of course. Should it be administered by the hands of older adults? Ummm. No. Even as a "joke," that would be considered child abuse in almost any state. I understood what the film-maker was going for, but the script never fleshed out enough to make these lessons completely palatable.

That said, the film does manage to exhibit the usual Sandler flair for balancing gross-out stupidity with a simple sweetness that makes it impossible to completely hate. The film works on a certain level because, clearly, the aim for the film is not that high. This is nothing more than a silly, juvenile comedy and everybody in the cast seems to know it. Jon Lovitz, as a former nerd now billionaire, offers a joyous performance filled with toys, gadgets and quite a few zingy one-liners. Likewise, as Gus's fertility obsessed wife, Molly Sims combines sweetness, sincerity and goofiness.

The film, directed by Dennis Dugan, has a variety of fun, smaller cameo appearances including Tim Meadows, Norm MacDonald and, yes, even a quick one by Sandler himself. In fact, if you read through the film's credits at the end, you'll see a variety of extras with such familiar last names as Sandler, Dugan, Jackson (two, including baseball legend Reggie) and quite a few others.

I have often read that Adam Sandler is a very loyal friend. He surrounds himself with those people who bring him joy, and it is often this core of joy that radiates in even the silliest of his films. "The Benchwarmers", for me, radiates this same joy. Once again, Sandler has shown that loyalty to his friends by producing a film written by friends, starring friends, staffed by friends and directed by friends. Is "The Benchwarmers" a brilliant film? Nope, not by a long shot. Is it even brilliant comedy? Nope, to be honest it's not. "The Benchwarmers" is, however, a friendly, easygoing film with a gentle spirit, generally good heart and more than a few laughs supported nicely by a cast that seems to saying "This is all a waste of time, but man it's nice working with you guys again."

Hmmmmm.

I just had this odd thought. "The Benchwarmers" is sort of like "Ocean's 11" for Dummies.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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