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We finally got around to seeing Benchwarmers (I know, I know) and I have to say, I’m not sure it deserves its reputation. When it was released it was nominated for dozens of bad move awards. I can understand why. Given the message of the film and the path of the industry at that time, it could easily have been seen as too soft. Yet it gave us everything a movie could at that time if you were trying to send a message.

In short, the film is about bullying. It is also about acceptance and inclusion. None of these were popular themes in the early parts of the millennium for America.

If you give it a chance, see it for what it is, the film can be enjoyable. If it had been cleaned up to lose the PG-13 rating I think it would have done far better because it really is a film that speaks to the tween generation. Even they, however, might have been too jaded at the time to appreciate this film’s intent. Of course, we could also have the audience wrong. Maybe the film hit exactly who it was meant to, the parents of up and coming tweens using their childhood idols as adult role models.

Benchwarmers was released in 2006, which was the tail end of the Happy Madison Productions success cycle. Perhaps that’s why it took me until 2017 to give it a try. While the company’s early films had a sentimentality to them, over the first decade of the new millennium they became a bit sloppy with the focus. The success of the Madison brand depends on “guy humor” while also delivering a message. When either one of those ideals dominates, the film is generally off balance.

Getting the mix just about right this movie is a pleasant return to the early years of Madison. Using some of the classic characters we’ve grown accustom to seeing, it is nice to see too that they have significantly matured as actors in that time.

No Happy Madison Production would be complete without Rob Schneider and a little nepotism. Schneider takes on a much stronger role in this film than in his past Madison productions and really carries the film in a surprising way. As for making it a family affair, Sandlers’ wife and nephew, as well as the director’s father, all take on roles as extras.

Like his character in Major League, Jon Lovitz manages to pull off sympathetically annoying by tapering some of the more aggravating habits he picked up to succeed on the stand up circuit earlier in his career.

Cameos are another one of the Madison’s calling cards and this film is no exception. From the sports world, you’ll see appearances by Reggie Jackson, Bill Romanowski (NFL), Craig Kilborn (ESPN), Sean Salisbury (NFL) and Dan Patrick (ESPN). Also appearing in the film as an extra was RHP John Moscot, formerly with the Cincinnati Reds, who was a young teen at the time. For career reasons his parents didn’t allow him to be credited but he has since spoken about his role.

Jackson’s appearance is certainly reminiscent but also probably stuff you shouldn’t really be teaching another generation; even if they were exercises the parents can relate to. Hot potato (literally) and mailbox baseball are fun in theory but incredibly dangerous when executed properly.

What I appreciated about this film, looking at it with historic eyes, is how subtly Sandler’s films continued to drive home some messages that are now part of the norm. This film had a gay dad who was also a “tough guy” and seen as an equal to the other dads who acted in his same way.

It also had a lot to say about bullying and, in it’s own right, it is an ode to the nerd. It began to normalize what we now take for granted in societies across the world but which had, until that time, been poorly hidden secret shames of our adult behaviors.

Bullying today is seen for what it truly is, no matter who is delivering the message and people of all gender identifications and preferences across the world have more legal rights than ever in our modern history. I think that, perhaps, these are exactly the reasons it was rated so poorly. Those in the mindset of status quo saw the potential in the film and wanted it quashed.

The nerd love in this film is well researched and deeply appreciated. Rather than having a single type of nerd or a group of nerds who all have the same interests, the film really reflects, in great light, all the nerds that grow up to be parts of society you wouldn’t want to be without – play-by-play announcers, cameramen, writers and musicians are all well-represented.

The film, rightfully, received a PG-13 rating. That was the biggest disappointment for me at the end. The same movie could have been made clean and reached the audience that really needed it. That pre-teen, just learning about the realities of life, angst-filled group we now call millennials, were ready to learn some lessons in bullying. They could really have benefited from the presentation. Ultimately, this one was made for the parents of those kids, perhaps as nods to their own pasts but the import of the message was still meant for their youth.

Released under the tagline, “Its never too late to take a stand,” this is a good story for older kids about bullying and a great reminder to adults about how kids learn the behavior. It also has some appreciative nods to baseball cinema history, especially the Bad News Bears.

The final scene is lifted from the original Bad News Bears but we’re not complaining. It’s all heart and done with a different set of circumstances that really make it special.

The set also borrows from baseball’s past. The stadium built for the final game features architectural details borrowed from several Major League parks: The trim on the top of the bleachers has been a staple of Yankee Stadium since the 70s, the brick and ivry fence is straight from Wrigley Field, the Green Monster makes it’s own appearance away from Fenway Park and, just like the home of the Dbacks, there is a pool behind right field.

The film has some unexpected moments that make it worth watching including the final game so give it a shot. If nothing else, you’ll find someone to root for and that’s half the fun of watching anything you’re not competing in right?