Boy, I sure do hate eating my words. Right from the get-go, when it first was announced, I was trashing this flick, even when it-nerd Jon Heder signed on. I just thought it sounded pretty stupid, Spade and Schnieder haven't done anything substantial in years (or ever?) and the fact that "Adam Sandler Regular" Allan Covert co-wrote it wasn't doing the flick any favors, in my eyes. Still, as much as I hate to admit it, I was wrong. This is a pretty damn entertaining movie, kids.
Part of the reason I trashed this movie so much is because they didn't give us a lot of detail about the flick when it first was set up. We simply got that Rob Schnieder, David Spade and Heder were these dorks trying to recapture their childhood by taking on adolescent baseball teams. Thankfully, it's far more than that. Except for Schnieder's Gus, a seemingly normal guy with a wife and a self-made landscaping company, Spade's Richie, a video store clerk with a quaff that alone would be fodder for any bully, and Heder's Clark, a paper boy (yeah, more fodder) didn't really have a childhood to recapture... or even an adulthood to embrace. Richie and Clark have had virtually no interaction with the opposite sex and Clark still lives with his mother. So, when they all stick up for a few nerds just trying to have fun on the diamond, and get bullied off by a real youth team, they're not only standing up for nerds everywhere, but for themselves as well.
They get support from nerds all over the country, via the web, and a former nerd-turned-billionaire, Mel (Jon Lovitz), who is the father of the kid originally picked on, it erupts into a nerds vs. non-nerds baseball tourney, with teams from all over the reigon, with the winner getting a brand new, pimped-out stadium, funded by Mel.
There isn't really a whole lot that doesn't work in this movie, much to my surprise. There are plenty of jokes in Covert and co-writer/co-star Nick Swardson's (who plays Richie's agoraphobic brother) script that fall flat on their face, but the ones that work, are really funny and far outshine the miscues. The acting is all very good here, from practically everyone. There are some surprising turns from some ex-football players here, which is a little odd, in Sean Salisbury, current ESPN gridiron analyst, in a decent turn as a aggressive but closet-gay baseball coach, but Bill Romanowski, ex-linebacker/psychopath is a little too weird as another hyped-up coach. And those are the worst performances here.
While Heder clings a little too tightly to his Napoleon Dynamite persona here, he still does a pretty good job as Clark, and Spade is better than he's been in years as Richie, while Nick Swardson steals the show a few times as the sun-fearing Howie, providing some of the best lines in the flick. The big surprise here was the surprisingly subtle performance from Rob Schnieder. While he is pretty good as Sandler's right-hand man in most of his flicks, his starring efforts are the stuff that critics thrive on, pouncing on every failed joke or terrible delivery. But here he gives a surprisingly warm, almost endearing performance as Gus. He never goes over the top, as he often has done in the past, and he has a firm grasp on the character, showing some range that I've honestly never seen from him before. Also, look for a surprise, supermodel cameo here at the end.
But perhaps the biggest surprise of this flick was Covert and Swardson's unique script. They don't stick to formula at all here, although they set it up for a perfect oppurtunity to do so. When the adult trio first start taking on the youngsters, they're winning by a lot, but it's all because of Schnieder and I thought that they'd have this big Bad News Bears thing at the end where Spade and Heder finally come around in a crucial moment. But that doesn't happen here, as they improve along they way, and show that this script is far more layered than I could've possibly imagined, with some great sub-plots, great character development, especially with Lovitz's character who drives K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider and the old Batmobile. There is also a pretty surprising twist, and a wonderful ending that I wouldn't have guessed in a million years. Director Dennis Dugan has directed Sandler's (whose Happy Madison prodco produced this, obviously) two best movies: Big Daddy and Happy Gilmore, and I always wondered why he never did more of his flicks. He seemed to bring out the best in Sandler, and it's obvious that his talent shows through here, allowing Spade and Schnieder to deliver their best performances in years. Why this guy doesn't get more work, I don't know, but after pulling it off big time with this flick, I really hope he gets more work.
Benchwarmers is, simply, a flick about standing up for yourself, but it really is a flick that shows there are many more that will stand with you. This won't win any Oscars, Golden Globes or BAFTA's, but it should win over many people, nerd and non-nerd alike, with its amusing yet realistic story, and for Rob Schnieder finally coming out of his shell. I hate eating my words, but I'll be dining on them tonight.
The Benchwarmers is out April 7, 2006.