In January, the fine folks at Happy Madison Productions inflicted “Grandma’s Boy” upon the innocent moviegoing public, the first of about a dozen films this year that have opened without being shown to critics ahead of time. The same tactic is at work with the release of “The Benchwarmers,” a poor man’s “Bad News Bears” in which grown-up nerds get retroactive revenge by beating up on bully Little Leaguers on the ball field. Yeah, it’s as stupid as you would expect. It has more than its fair share of booger jokes and flowing bodily fluids. “Bull Durham,” it ain’t. But for a movie whose cast consists of “Saturday Night Live” alums, ESPN “SportsCenter” personalities and the dude from “Napoleon Dynamite,” it’s surprisingly funny every once in a while in an unabashedly goofy way. Rob Schneider, David Spade and Jon Heder co-star, with Jon Lovitz playing the billionaire geek with a “Star Wars” fixation who finances their makeshift team. Rated: PG-13 for crude humor. Rating: 1½ out of four stars. – Christy Lemire, AP movie critic
â€˜Lucky Number Slevin’
Bad title, decent enough crime romp, even though it aims so hard at wily misdirection you fear the actors may pull some muscles as they bob and weave. Reteaming with Josh Hartnett, the star of his dreary misfire “Wicker Park,” director Paul McGuigan manages a brisk tale of bad guys pulling fast ones on each other. The film’s convolutions will keep audiences guessing without taxing their brains too much or stretching credibility. Hartnett stars as Slevin, who through mistaken identity is caught up in a war involving two crime bosses (Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley), a hit man (Bruce Willis) and a cop (Stanley Tucci), with Lucy Liu tagging along as a romantic interest. After moving along at a breathless clip, the movie unfortunately grows long-winded in the end as the filmmakers explain every little detail so no questions remain. Rated: R for strong violence, sexuality and language. Rating: 2½ out of 4 stars.
– David Germain, AP movie writer
â€˜Take the Lead’
Like “Lords of Dogtown,” the skateboarding film based on the documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” this was a far more effective story in its original nonfiction form. It’s inspired by the work of Pierre Dulaine, whose dance classes in New York City public schools also provided the basis for the charming 2005 documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom.” But the moves have moved from elementary school to high school, and the feel-good factor has been cranked up. (“Mad Hot Ballroom” put a smile on your face without trying so hard.) Here, Antonio Banderas serves up tough love to at-risk kids as the old-world Dulaine, teaching them the tango and the fox-trot with the hope that they simultaneously learn discipline and dignity. Banderas is so low-key in his gentlemanly manner, though, he makes a predictable movie tolerable. The feature debut from Liz Friedlander is shot and edited in fluid, vibrant fashion, as you would expect from a music-video veteran. But the speed with which these kids combine traditional ballroom-dance steps with modern hip-hop music is ridiculous. Rated: PG-13 for thematic material, language and some violence. Rating: 2½ stars out of four. – Christy Lemire, AP movie critic