Bad News Bears (2005)



    When the first version of THE BAD NEWS BEARS was released in the
mid-1970s, I was taking my first steps into the world of movies. I went to see it
mostly because I had enjoyed Tatum O’Neal in
PAPER MOON and wanted to see
what she would do for a follow-up. I haven’t seen that film since then, but I do have
fond memories of it, and its cast, particularly O’Neal, Walter Matthau as the
beer-soaked coach, and Jackie Earle Haley as the bad boy who comes to the
team’s rescue. There were two sequels that really didn’t capture what made the
original so special (probably because neither Matthau nor O’Neal were involved).

    When I heard that there was going to be a remake of the film, I thought (as I
often do) “why  bother?” Really, my concept for a remake should be to take
something that was inferior the first time around and fix it. But Hollywood has been
remaking films almost from its start, so one has to expect that they will redo almost
anything. (I’m cynically half-expecting remakes of
BIRTH OF A NATION and
GONE WITH THE WIND to be announced any day.)

    So, I tried to approach this reinterpretation of the material with an open mind.
I mean, the director was Richard Linklater who proved his facility with precocious
children in
SCHOOL OF ROCK and who was riding high with an Academy Award
nomination for the screenplay to
BEFORE SUNSET. The casting was promising
as well, featuring two Oscar winners, Marcia Gay Harden and Billy Bob Thornton.
The script was tweaked and updated by
BAD SANTA writers Glenn Ficarra and
John Requa, but retained enough of the original for Bill Lancaster (who died in
1997) to receive credit. So, it seemed that all the pieces were in place for
something that might be at least on par with the original, if not to exceed it.

    What went wrong, then? The story is more or less the same: thanks to a
court ruling, a ragtag bunch of kids who normally would not be allowed near a little
league field form the nucleus of the team. Hired to coach the team is washed-up,
one-time major league pitcher Morris Buttermaker (Thornton), now an alcoholic
exterminator in need of quick cash. Whereas in the original the instigator of the
lawsuit was a city councilman, in this version it’s a high-powered lawyer (Harden)
who happens to be the single mother of one of the team’s players. The villain of
the piece is Greg Kinnear’s rival coach Bullock (memorably portrayed by Vic
Morrow in the original). The kids get to act like kids, but few of them have had
any previous acting experience and they were cast more for their athletic abilities
than their thespian skills. And it shows. Badly.

    When the original was released in the mid-70s, the country was still reeling
from the Watergate scandal. The idea of winning at all costs was still relatively
new and ripe for satire (which director Michael Ritchie practically made a career
of in films like
DOWNHILL RACER and SMILE). In the cynical 2000s, values
have changed so some of the satirical elements of the original lack bite. Thanks
to the original, we’ve been inundated with smart-mouthed kids (see almost any
sitcom of the last 25 years) and the shocking nature of insult comedy also
has become less taboo. Still, there are amusing moments in the film, thanks
mostly to Thornton’s expert performance. As in
BAD SANTA, he channels a
curmudgeon who discovers his heart. For his performance, I might recommend
seeing the film. Otherwise, skip it and try to find the original.


                           
Rating:                    C-
                           
MPAA Rating:        PG-13 for rude behavior, language
                                                                      throughout, some sexuality & thematic
                                                                      elements
                           
Running time:       111 mins.


                                        Viewed at the Loews E-Walk
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.