The Benchwarmers (2006)

Jesse Hassenger

It's a shame that tee-heeing at gayness couldn't be jettisoned for the kids, rather than re-emphasized.

The Benchwarmers

Director: Dennis Dugan
Cast: Rob Schneider, David Spade, Jon Heder, Jon Lovitz, Craig Kilborn
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Sony
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-04-07

Adam Sandler's company, Happy Madison, has made a cottage industry of creating lackluster film vehicles for Saturday Night Live stars less popular than himself. Regardless of its success or failure in other areas, The Benchwarmers can claim the intelligence of combining resources. It stars Rob Schneider and David Spade, plus Jon Lovitz, and up-and-comer Jon Heder. I guess Dana Carvey was busy.

Gus (Schneider), Richie (Spade), and Clark (Heder) are grown-up nerds who still feel the effects of childhood bullying. Mel (Lovitz) is another nerd, but a rich one; he bankrolls a Little League tournament, where the three-man team will compete against the meanest kids in the state, the prize being a new baseball stadium (and, Mel hopes, nerd empowerment).

In the tradition of Sandler's starring projects, this set-up, in its threadbare simplicity, is kind of brilliant: an 80-minute hybrid of The Bad News Bears and Revenge of the Nerds. The choice to rip off two popular comedies rather than one is consistent with the casting's multitasking. As a (sort of) second-tier all-star team, it (sort of) works: the film is amusing (if far from hilarious), and the cinematic benchwarmers half-ass their way across the finish line.

Credit teamwork for that. On their own, neither Schneider nor Spade can carry a film. Putting them together recalls their roles on SNL, where they could contribute to the greater good with funny five-minute bits. Here, Schneider is something of a straight man, as Gus must show some skill at sports, in order for the tournament idea to work. A more inspired movie might've found a deeper, more elemental nerdiness for Gus (he's not so much nerdy as he is a nerd sympathizer), but it's a relief not to see Deuce Bigalow on the baseball diamond.

Schneider takes one for the team, allowing Heder to do his spaz act, Spade to quip away, and Lovitz to provide welcome side-ham as a millionaire who spends his money on vehicles from Knight Rider and Batman. Unlike many broad comedies, The Benchwarmers makes its up-with-dorks sentiment convincing, in part because it features comedians who will probably never run with the Eddie Murphys or Will Ferrells of the world (Tim Meadows and Craig Kilborn make appearances).

This is not to say that The Benchwarmers is a triumph; it features a typically Sandlerian mix of the crude, the obvious, and the semi-sweet, with varied effects. I can't deny that the continuous slapstick made me chuckle (Heder is a strong physical comedian), any easier than I can excuse flashes of homophobia in the midst of the inclusive message. One of the mean coaches (played by former NFL quarterback Sean Salisbury) turns out to be gay, and the joke, sadly, seems to be not the contrast between his jock-ish insults and his secret-minority status, but the fact that he's gay at all.

The spirit of this ramshackle comedy is generally more silly than cruel, and retooling the Sandler formula for a younger audience makes creative sense. Judging from last weekend's box office (a strong $20 million), it makes financial sense, too. But it's a shame that tee-heeing at gayness couldn't be jettisoned for the kids, rather than re-emphasized. The nerd trio is supposed to be sticking up for misfits everywhere.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.