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Jocks, nerds collide and -- surprise -- it's funny

As part of the ongoing culture war between aesthetes and vulgarians, the mind and the body, the snooty arbiters of taste and the roaring, belching marketplace, critics were not granted a preview screening of ''The Benchwarmers." This total bypass of the organs of discrimination is a growing phenomenon; the studios (Sony, in this case) apparently think it worthwhile to sacrifice the publicity of a few reviews for the chance to make some money before audiences discover how terrible a given movie is.

And so it gives me a perverse pleasure to announce that ''The Benchwarmers" is not terrible, not terrible at all. Yes, the plot is terrible, some of the jokes are terrible, and Rob Schneider's bizarre from-the-neck-up oxblood tan is terrible, but the movie as a whole is a more-than-acceptable addition to the genre of shameless and hastily made American comedy. I laughed eight times, and a gentleman behind me was wheezing in delight. Interestingly, ''The Benchwarmers" contains its own culture war -- in this case, between the ''nerds," those crash-helmeted human blossoms, and the grimacing ''jocks" who hound them, bent on twisting their nipples.

Schneider plays Gus, a landscaper who gathers his nerd friends (played by David Spade, Jon Heder, and the excellent Nick Swardson) into a baseball team with which -- through his own skill and the magic of nerd luck -- he can wreak revenge upon the bullies and blowhards. Jon Lovitz plays Mel, the team's billionaire sponsor. As always, Lovitz seems to be inhabiting an entirely different filmic dimension, with a strange Brechtian distance between himself and the lines he silkily utters. He is the Jeff Goldblum of vulgarity. ''This is music to my ear hair," he announces, with lascivious relish.

There are the usual fart gags and excrement fixations, but there are also moments of beauty. One character describes a cathartic encounter with a longtime tormentor: ''As I cowered in my peanut butter fort, he apologized to me. . . ." And the spectacle of defeated jocks groaning beneath self-administered nipple-twists will not soon be forgotten. Craig Kilborn slides across the screen, enjoying himself as usual, and shouts ''Let's strap it on and beat these geeks!" Reggie Jackson appears as himself. Pizza Hut and PlayStation are plugged with great assiduousness. What's not to like?

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