Plot: Don (John C. McGinley) is the veteran head coach of a little league team, a man who wants to lead his young charges to a championship above all else. His own past on the field inspires him to push his players, as he is haunted by his losses and mistakes, while his victories remain sweet even years later. As the new season approaches, he finds himself with a fresh assistant coach in Michael (Garret Dillahunt), himself a former athlete, but with a much different outlook. While Don is focused on wins, Michael wants the players to have fun and cherish the carefree aspects of the sport, which of course causes an instant clash between the coaches. This also confuses the players, who feel torn between the coaches, but as the season rolls on, can the coaches find some kind of common ground to build on?
Entertainment Value: At first glace, Benched seems like yet another sports movie about a team of hapless ragamuffins who try to rally behind their eccentric coach, but that isn’t the case at all. Instead, this movie focuses in on the coaches and runs with an odd couple thread, but with a more grounded, personal approach than usual for a baseball movie, to be sure. The narrative is fine, but has no real spark and while it gently explores some interesting ideas, Benched never commits and dives deep, so we’re left with surface level examinations of complex issues. This wouldn’t be an issue if there was more to this one, but there’s not much else to talk about here. Benched has a little humor, but none of it earns big laughs, while the story is forgettable and serves as the backdrop while the coaches confront their various personal demons. A slow pace, shallow exposition, and no real payoff doom this movie, as Benched just never shifts out of first gear and is hard to recommend, even to fans of the stars.
The lone positive I found with Benched is the lead performers, as both seem to connect with the material and turn in solid efforts. John C. McGinley has the right attitude for the grizzled, ambitious head coach and plays the role well, though the material doesn’t give him much to work with. But he does what he can and his overall presence adds a lot to the movie, making an otherwise lackluster presentation at least deliver some minor entertainment at times. Garret Dillahunt seems a little disconnected at times, but also performs in solid fashion. The two spend a lot of the movie’s duration in basic style conversations about baseball, their pasts, and life in general, so it is important to have two good leads that connect well. I think both more than hold their own, but the script is so weak, their talent is mostly wasted here. The cast also includes Jlynn Johnson, Darius Willis, and Graham Schneider.