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Schneider scores a winner

Analise Lipari | Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Rob Schneider is a man on a mission.

Given the prospect of either remaining Adam Sandler’s sidekick for cinematic eternity, or finding leading roles, Schneider chose to boldly head into the revolutionary genre of … dumb comedies.

Despite his seemingly limited talents, calling to mind such classics as “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” Schneider has, to his credit, found in “The Benchwarmers” a simple, straightforward comedic style in his own vein. While the film may not headline at Sundance anytime soon, it proves to be what it expects of itself: a stupidly funny way to spend an hour and a half.

The film opens with close friends Gus Matthews (Schneider), Richie Goodman (David Spade) and Clark Reedy (Jon Heder) finding themselves on a local baseball diamond, defending the honor of a young, nerdy boy who needs their help against the evil legion of popular Little League players. Gus, a former athlete, and his two companions – who are anything but – decide to take up the cause of nerds everywhere and challenge the bullies.

Gus and crew manage to beat the athletes at their own game, due to Gus’ impressive pitching skill and Richie and Clark’s ability to stand in one place for nine innings. The trio decides to continue this winning streak, finding themselves in a tournament-of-sorts with local children’s baseball teams, encountering Craig Kilborn, Tim Meadows and a hilarious Jon Lovitz along the way.

Pandering to the alleged sensibilities of its intended audience of adolescent males, the film’s humor is anything but mature. Flatulence, racial stereotypes and science-fiction enthusiasts are played for laughs, with a mixed bag of results.

Occasionally bordering on brilliance, however, is the character of Howie (Nick Swardson), who is the highlight of the film’s joke repertoire. Richie’s younger brother, Howie is a notorious agoraphobe, and his battles with the sadistic rays of the sun are hysterically epic. The sheer outrageousness of most of the film’s humorous situations keeps it from being too offensive.

Heder, clearly playing off of his “Napoleon Dynamite” persona, characterizes Clark perfectly as the sweetly inept, stereotypical nerd. Spade in turn continues to expand the breadth of his acting portfolio by playing a slightly geekier version of “Dicky Roberts: Former Child Star,” but his deadpan delivery is a consistently funny aspect of the film.

Tacking on a message of acceptance and understanding each other’s differences seems cliché and unnecessary, but “The Benchwarmers” deems it essential and does it with gusto, its grand finale taking place in a baseball stadium full of athletes and nerds alike. While this is where the film takes its clumsiest turn, Schneider’s everyman personality keeps it from descending too far down the drain.

Overall, “The Benchwarmers” is an unassuming and silly comedy.

The recently released DVD contains several special features of interest. Howie’s funniest sequences are immortalized in “Who’s On Deck,” a short montage of the film’s funnier moments. The DVD also has several other featurettes, including “Mr. October,” which includes baseball great Reggie Jackson. It also includes both a director’s commentary and a more ridiculous commentary featuring Heder and Spade.

With “The Benchwarmers,” Schneider began the long process of moving beyond Deuce Bigalow and into legitimate comedic cinema. In the meantime, enjoying the film and its DVD are fun ways to spend a lazy afternoon.