Bad News Bears (2005)

4 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

2005’s “Bad News Bears” is the remake of the beloved 1976 kids-sports comedy “THE Bad News Bears.” You know the drill—alcoholic former baseball-player Morris Buttermaker is roped into coaching a Little League team, mostly composed of losers. They start the season terribly, but through many practices and hard work, they gain a winning streak and eventually make it to the championship game where they must play against their arch-rivals.

It’s a bit odd, and kind of disappointing, that Richard Linklater is as faithful to the source material as you could practically follow it about the same as the original film (save for a few altered bits for comedic effect). I say that because Linklater is one of the most creative, insightful filmmakers around, what with films such as “Dazed and Confused,” “Before Sunrise”/”Before Sunset,” and “School of Rock” (all of which are very different films). I’m surprised he didn’t add that amount of creativity for this remake. I know some people prefer that remakes stay faithful to the original, but really, you could watch both movies and notice a great lot of similarities in element. It doesn’t feel like a Linklater film in that sense.

But to Linklater’s credit, he does get the majority of what made the original film special. In fact, he actually updates from it for the modern time. Buttermaker is more of a sex fiend than a grump this time around (and even manages to sleep with one of the kids’ mothers), and also uses his attitude and personality to get a strip joint, “Bo-Peeps,” to sponsor the team (so some of the women who work there stop by the games to cheer them on—they’re the loudest, most excited people in the crowd). The profanity that the original was known for is also updated, in that being a PG-13 movie, everything but the “F” word is said constantly. That’s pretty surprising; you’d think it would have been toned down, but nope. Another noticeable update, which you could probably tell from other concepts I mentioned—this remake is darker in tone and very un-PC.

What really makes “Bad News Bears” entertaining throughout, and what makes it worth watching rather than just watching the original, is the lead performance from Billy Bob Thornton. In a role originally portrayed by Walter Matthau as a grumpy drunk, Thornton doesn’t imitate Matthau in the slightest. Instead, he makes the role all his own. He’s crude, brash, nasty, deceitful, and creepy. But Thornton does manage to make us like him, just as he made us like his character in “Bad Santa.” And while Matthau’s advice to the kids in the original was more heartwarming than funny, Thornton’s advice to the kids in this remake is absolutely hilarious. Since the kids’ parents are never around, he has to be the surrogate-father to most of the members of the team, including an Armenian kid whose father doesn’t approve of his playing sports. What’s his advice? Lie. Say, “Guess what, Dad! We won today! He’s not gonna know the difference—he’s from Ricky-Ticky-Taffy or wherever it is, you know?”

And Thornton’s one-liners are very funny. Here’s my favorite: “You can love baseball, but it don’t always love you back. It’s kinda like dating a German chick, you know?”

Greg Kinnear plays an opposing coach, played in the original by Vic Morrow. Kinnear can play a nice guy in many movies, but in my opinion when he really shines is when he’s just playing a downright jerk. Here, he’s a winning-obsessed coach who doesn’t care what it takes to get his team to win, and also tries to intimidate Buttermaker and some of his team members when he gets the chance (but ultimately fails at it).

As for the kids, they’re good comic actors and play their stereotypical roles (mostly copied from the original) to a T. Timmy Deters, as the little tough guy Tanner Boyle, is a riot, and so is Troy Gentile as a wheelchair-bound smart aleck who always reminds Buttermaker that he’s in a wheelchair and yet still goes out to play the infield in the climactic big game. But of course, there’s the case of the role of Amanda, the girl pitcher played memorably by Tatum O’Neal in the original. Here, she’s played by Sammi Kraft, who acquits herself to the role effectively. And there’s also Kelly Leak, the rebellious bad-boy originally played by Jackie Earle Haley. Here, he’s played by Jeffrey Davies, who unfortunately is not as good.

While I give “Bad News Bears” a mild recommendation, I still find myself asking why it was made and why a director like Richard Linklater would be on board to direct it. Was it money? Were they hoping to cash in on the summer sports comedy? Well, however it worked, “Bad News Bears” is still an entertaining remake.

NOTE: Upon closer investigation of the film’s credits, I learned that the script is co-written by Bill Lancaster, who wrote the original 1976 screenplay. That would explain how faithful this remake is.

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