Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Benchwarmers: Bring on the B-Team

There was a time during the mid to late 90s when motion picture comedies were dominated by SNL alumni. It seemed as if every box office success either starred Adam Sandler or someone closely related to him. After a couple of hits, these films became readily identifiable by the helpful Happy Madison production company logo being branded onto these seemingly identical movies about goofy stunted adolescents who often suffer from uncontrollable rage and limited intelligence. They repeatedly find themselves in gimmicky plots that always manage to culminate in their coupling with a tall, skinny, blond woman with mediocre acting skills. To further decreasen distinctiveness, the titles were conveniently named after their lead character (Happy Gilmore) or their lead character's gimmick (The Animal) or even both (Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo).

As time has passed, their success has weakened. The ringleader, Adam Sandler, has managed to survive with box office smashes like 50 First Dates and The Longest Yard while garnering respect by acting in projects that still resemble his traditioal fare but are given prestige due to their director's established talents as is the case with Punch Drunk Love and Spanglish. Aside from Sandler, the rest of the troupe have sunk into mediocrity with embarrassing vanity projects. The Benchwarmers marks the materialization of this degradation for Rob Schneider and David Spade.

Now that the comedy scene is dominated by what has come to be referred to as the "frat pack" (Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, etc.), the Happy Madison troupe has run into trouble headlining films on their own. While a Schneider or Spade vehicle can no longer be relied on to make more than $30 million theatrically (not the end of the world since their films generally carry $15-20 million production budgets and some such as Joe Dirt make a killing on DVD), maybe if they pool their talents then can eek something up to the $50 million mark. And so, The Benchwarmers, a film about three geeky adults who are given the chance to play against the best (and meanest) little league teams to promote tolerance ad affection for the less talented kids in the baseball world, the film becomes a metaphor for the three lead actors' careers. Late in the film, a member of the bully team remarks "they're congratulating him for striking out! The coach isn't yelling or anything!" We assume the director isn't doing much yelling at the actors either, instead letting these three has-beens and second rate movie stars show the bankable stars that the losers can still have a little fun too.

David Spade has shown himself to be humble and resigned about his celebrity status as of late: going on record that the only reason he is still getting work in movies is because of Adam Sandler's wealth and generosity. Schneider has been less admirable, garnering a reputation as a pompous egomaniac but in spite of this he still plays the nice, sensible guy with irresistibly hammy relish. Admittedly the ignominy of has-been is a little harsh on Napoleon Dynamite star, Jon Heder, but his decision to join this crew by-passes his star descent and goes straight to the bargain bin. Problematically, Heder is attached to co-star with Will Ferrell in the figure skating comedy, Blades of Glory. But will this mark Heder's trope ascension or Ferrell's demotion?

As for The Benchwarmers as a movie, there isn't much to say. There are a few laughs here and there but never anything consistent. Jon Lovitz is at the top of his game as always and Schneider, Spade and Heder add at least one or two bright moments each but most scenes are undercut by unjustified vomiting or midget exploitation. The soundtrack mimics the hodgepodge approach to comedy by bombarding us with eclectic pop music with complete disregard for context or synthesizing with the visuals. Recycled opening chords of Dire Straits songs or instrumental refrains from a New Found Glory hit take the place of a musical score. It's as if the record company shoved a bunch of songs on the music supervisor's desk, who preceeded to throw them all in and assume one or two would stick. In their defense, the occasional song works. However one of the successes is the indestructible "Jerk it Out" by The Caesars which has made its way from Ipod commercial to Yours Mine & Ours to The Pink Panther trailers, so no points for originality there. Overall it's pretty poor craftsmanship but mercifully the cast and crew acknowledge this throughout, most beautifully articulated in the final end credit outtake where Jon Lovitz asks "Has this been a big waste of time?" to which Schneider replies, "Yeah pretty much."

1 comment:

Cinema Journal said...

Damn. This movie sounds lame. I think I'll pass. Why do you think this sub-par-sub-genre has declined in popularity over the years? And how do rate its quality compared to something like Happy Gilmore? Is there a future to this adult-as-adolescent genre?

Sorry for all the questions. Glad to see the blog updated. I need to do that more often myself.