From the beginning to its very end, "The Benchwarmers" seems to be struggling to justify its own existence. "This can't be happening," says Clark (Jon Heder), the overgrown, nose-picking paperboy as he's being beaten down by kids half his age. This happens very early in the movie. But not too early for you lucky people in the audience to be saying the same thing to yourselves.
Why, you may ask, does a grown man allow himself to be beaten up by kids? Because co-producer Adam Sandler and director Dennis Dugan ("Big Daddy," "Happy Gilmore," "National Security") can assure studios that they'll deliver profits on movies in which grown men act like 11-year-olds.
The logical extension of such a mind-set is "The Benchwarmers," in which the aforementioned Clark, weaselly video-store clerk Richie (David Spade) and regular-Joe handyman Gus (Rob Schneider) team up to play against thuggish elementary-school-age baseball players.
Gus is the only one who's got skills while Clark and Richie are so clueless about the game that by the time they get their first hit, they don't know which way to run to first base. (By which time, you'll still be saying, "This can't be happening.") Mel (Jon Lovitz), the friendly neighborhood multibillionaire and recovering nerd, subsidizes the trio as a barnstorming brigade called "Three Older Guys" to bring retroactive honor to every uncoordinated kid who never got called on to hit or pitch. Bullies big and small rally together to find fair or foul means to restore order to their twisted little universe.
So let the vomit-and-gas jokes begin! And if you behave, you might get to see Reggie Jackson giving our heroes some catch-up lessons by letting them use neighborhood mailboxes as their personal batting tees. (Reggie's looking pretty good, by the way. Does he really need money this bad?)
One supposes "The Benchwarmers" justifies its existence in submitting a plea for tolerating, even respecting, school outcasts everywhere. Why, then, does one fear that this movie actually encourages the behavior it professes to despise? Don't raise your hands all at once.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and suggestive humor, and for language
A Sony Pictures Entertainment/Revolution Studios release. Director Dennis Dugan. Writers Allen Covert & Nick Swardson. Producers Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo. Director of photography Thomas AckerCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times