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September 19, 2018

Benchwarmers (2006)

The second in our series of underrated masterworks is Benchwarmers.

Why critics hate: Benchwarmers.
Reminds them of their own lack of skill at sports.  And, rather than gaining the skill to win a game through some crazy routine, they kind of stay mediocre.  Ouch.  As the film title says “reality bites.”

Rather than getting revenge, the nerds merely make peace with their enemy.  And, with the sun.

Critics prefer films in which the outsiders aren’t shown to be truly nerdy, but kind of beefed up, like they are in the film-within-a-film at the end of Disney’s Chicken Little.

Yes, Benchwarmers is derivative.  The quick building sequence even takes its music from Koyaanisqatsi.  But surely, critics should be able to appreciate being party to this kind of “I watched too many movies” in joke.

And, perhaps they feared a sequel.  They were right to fear a sequel, but despite their efforts, Benchwarmers was commercially successful enough to merit one.

Despite getting a only 11% on rotten tomatoes, an internet search informs me that 88% of Google users like this film.  Hey, I’m a Google user, and I haven’t voted yet.  Make that 89%.  So, I’m not the only one who thinks it deserves to be a masterwork, now am I.

What makes Benchwarmers funny?  Well, the energy of the cast, it’s so natural.  Okay, Jon Heder always seems a bit like Napoleon Dynamite, and David Spade almost always seems to play himself.  Gus, however, though as standouts as much as Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin, plays a character with such depth that you forget he’s a character actor.

Benchwarmers is more than just a series of tasteless jokes.  It’s a heartwarming story of some troubled men who face their demons and learn to finally grow up.  Partially.

Grow up?  Ew, yuck.  No critic wants to do that.  However, Toys R Us went bankrupt, so it looks like you’ll have to.

There are some jokes I would have dropped.  This film can be embarrassing to watch, and one suspects Michael J Fox would have excelled in the role of Gus or even as one of Gus’s two buddies.  Jon Lovitz, though he does appear to play himself, is convincing as the crazy billionaire.

Though there’s nothing outstanding, nothing blatantly original, about the cinematography nor the “visual” aspect of the directing, the actors do know their lines fairly well.  Even the sports celebrities used appear to be naturals.  The film has a kind of unity that can only be brought about with a great director.  Compare Mortdecai to show where a director (or writer) can lose it, and make a film seem a bit disjointed.  There are no stupid 3D text tricks in Benchwarmers, just shots that are brought on by the story (and even the most derivative elements, like the robot from the Rocky series, seem to fit the plotline.)

Don’t worry if you haven’t seen a lot of movies.  The visual puns work on multiple levels.

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