‘Benchwarmers’ not so ‘Scary’

Reeling it in

Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2006

“The Benchwarmers”

Revolution Studios

1 hour, 25 minutes

“Scary Movie 4”

Weinstein Co.

1 hour, 23 minutes

Wow. Was this ever a red letter weekend at the movies. I took care of the hard part, and you get to reap the rewards. In this review you get two, count ’em two, lamebrain, low-brow comedies for the price of one. I unfortunately had to pay for both, but it just goes to show how dedicated I am.

It’s a toss-up as to which movie to start with, but since “The Benchwarmers” makes “Scary Movie 4” look like a Scorsese film, I guess we’ll begin with that. I knew “Benchwarmers,” a movie about geeks who get to play baseball, was in trouble when I realized that, of all people, Rob Schneider was playing the straight man. If you think Schneider is perpetually annoying in his myriad fish-out-of-water roles (“Deuce Bigalow,” “The Animal,” “The Hot Chick”) or as the freaky foil to Adam Sandler, try watching him try to play it serious.

The guy can be funny, which is the only reason the aforementioned atrocities draw any kind of a crowd. But without his sense of humor, Schneider is a train wreck. That said, he is by far the least offensive thing about this terrible film. Schneider, along with co-conspirators David Spade and “Napoleon Dynamite’s” Jon Heder, play three guys who never really got to play sports but decide to take on the entire Little League circuit, by themselves.

Schneider, who plays Gus, is inexplicably an incredible ballplayer, and basically trounces all the other teams by himself, which seemed a little unfair considering he’s an adult, but maybe I’m thinking too much. Spade and Heder play the Goodman brothers, and are reliably, though tiringly spasmodic on the ball field.

When Jon Lovitz, as multibillionaire geek Mel, shows up and offers to sponsor the team and build a new stadium for the little leaguers, things really pick up for our nerd heroes, leading us down the path to the inevitable faux-heartwarming awful ending.

There was so much wrong with this film that it’s hard to know where to begin, but suffice it to say that it simply demeans the art of filmmaking.

At times I felt like I was watching a movie aimed at 5-year-olds. At other times I was embarrassed that I was in the theater with kids present. No, it’s not so offensive that I would say it’s harmful, though it is offensive. It’s bigger than that. At every turn, the film seems to misstep. The jokes aren’t funny; the writing is terrible, as is the acting. Even the moral lessons, in a movie ostensibly about tolerance, are wildly off the mark.

At every moment where the film seems to be lifting up the downtrodden and the different, it is, in the same breath, mocking and deriding them. And how did Reggie Jackson ever let himself get talked into this, especially in the scene where he teaches that a good way to improve your batting is to play “mailbox baseball.”

Way to set an example, Reg.

With all that, the fact that the film’s premise makes no sense at all seems almost secondary in importance. “The Benchwarmers” is one of those films that shouldn’t have even been allowed to shine the bench. It should have had to wait out in the parking lot. Grade: D-

“Scary Movie 4,” by comparison, is great. No, it’s not, but it was a little better than I expected. Picking up with the same characters, but leaving any preceding storyline by the wayside, this “Scary Movie” tells the story of Cindy Campbell, a pretty blonde who takes a job caring for an elderly woman in a house haunted by a dead Japanese child.

Next door lives Tom Ryan, a divorcee with two kids who has the unfortunate privilege of saving the world from a horde of attacking alien tripods. Together, the two of them will embark on a search for the secret of defeating the aliens, a journey that will take them through a certain “village,” into a dank basement filled with torture devices, and even over a certain “mountain.”

In typical Zucker style (David Zucker, the creator of “Airplane,” and “The Naked Gun,” took over the series after the second one) the action zips through a whole series of jokes and pop culture references, all coming at you rapid-fire. The problem is that the jokes just aren’t that funny. Some of them are, I guess — there are moments spoofing “War of the Worlds” that are fall-down funny. But for the most part, the timing just isn’t there.

Sequences go on too long, get way too gross or just plain aren’t written well. It was all hit or miss. Mostly miss. I felt like I was watching an episode of the current incarnation of Saturday Night Live, an enterprise which wouldn’t have cost me six bucks.

“Scary Movie 3” was so terrible that I guess this one is an improvement, but I just wonder where the genre is going. It’s not really about scary movies anymore, nor does it need to be. There are plenty of movies and cultural references to spoof, but somewhere along the line the gimmick has lost something. The filmmakers need to, I think, go back and look at their best work. They didn’t used to belabor the point. They made a joke and were quickly on to the next one. Or they layered jokes, often using “real” actors in surprising roles.

“Scary Movie 4” was bad, but it was more sad, considering the rich creative soil from which it sprang. What’s scary is the thought of this trend continuing. Grade: C-

“The Benchwarmers” is rated PG-13 for cartoon violence, language, and crude humor. Ditto for “Scary Movie 4.” Thankfully, both movies are blissfully short.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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