Richard Linklater takes the remake route with The Bad News Bears (a film that has been remade in spirit more than any other.) Certainly more cuddly and PC than the original, this take is nevertheless saved by a pitch-perfect performance from Billy Bob Thorton, who is fast becoming the king of ‘lovable bastard’ roles. Linklater resisted the urge to put any kind of twist or kitsch in his version, which faithfully follows the little league careers of a group of ne’er do wells and losers who are cajoled, cat called, and coerced into near greatness by their booze-hound coach (Thorton). A feel good, if forgettable, film, Bad News Bears is at least good enough to deliver the laughs at a brisk pace, with many a laugh-out-loud moment. Maybe not the best kids movie in the world, but family’s should enjoy it’s easy (and kinda skeezy) charm.
The Bad News Bears
Since 1976, nearly every kids-themed sports film (and the not so kid-themed Slap Shot) has been a take on cynical and wonderful Bad News Bears. Let’s see: rag tag group of non-atheletes mentored by a curmudgeonly rascal with a past rise up against the odds with the help of a couple of ringers and sheer gumption. Sound familiar? You bet it does. So when Richard Linklater announced his next mainstream project was a remake of the Bad News Bears, the most obvious question was ‘what’s the point?’. After all, what ground was there left to cover after The Bad News Bears (1976), The Bad News Bears: Breaking Training (1979), and the Tony Curtis fueled Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978)? Well, not much at all, to tell the truth.
So director Richard Linklater has done another kids movie and get this, it’s another in a slew of remakes that Hollywood’s been pumping out lately. Fortunately for those of us who actually give a crap about what we watch, this remake of Bad News Bears is actually one of the better ones.
You all know the story (even if you didn’t see the original, trust me, you know the story): a ragtag group of kids that have absoutely zero skill on the baseball field come together under the tutlage of a craggy, drunk coach who at first doesn’t care but later learns the true meaning of something or other while the kids learn to play and most importantly, to love or something like that.
What makes this movie work, though, is the talent of Billy Bob Thornton. He, of course, plays the coach and has a million crass, sarcastic lines which are all actually very funny. Billy Bob has oodles of charisma and plays the ‘gruff guy with a heart of gold’ thing very well. In fact, I can’t really imagine any other actor these days pulling it off with quite the same skill and ease. He really does carry the entire film.
The kids, however, aren’t really all that special. Their lines generally aren’t very funny and their crass insults don’t really stand up to the humor that was written for Billy Bob. I don’t really see any of these kids breaking out and becoming great acting sensations, but I guess one never knows. That really isn’t apparent with any of the kids in this movie. I was also a bit disappointed with Greg Kinnear in this one. His character is the coach on the main opposing team and of course, he plays it as a real tight-ass. That’s really all you can say about it. Nothing great, just tight-ass. Well, maybe that’s all he can really do.
So let’s tick off that checklist: the story is stock, the writing is uneven, the characters sometimes do things that it seems they wouldn’t really do, and the kids aren’t that great. However, the movie was entertaining. Maybe Wedding Crashers blew a circuit in my brain. All I know is that I laughed, I was entertained, and I didn’t leave the theater feeling cheated (this would be the perfect opportunity to put in another slam at Land of the Dead, but… oh! Too late!).
I almost forgot, there was also some racism, sexism, and lots of cursing by little kids in Bad News Bears. And there really isn’t much of a moral. Really, what more could you want for a good, dumb summer movie? Go see it. Why the hell not?
Linklater proved he’s got a deft touch with mainstream comedies centered around losers (School of Rock and Waking Life. Oh wait, Waking Life wasn’t meant to be a comedy) so on the surface The Bad News Bears seems like a good fit for his talents. But while we’re treated to profanity after profanity, what remains of this film is actually far, far less cynical or ballsy than the 1976 original. The original film ended with the Bears losing, but instead of a ‘we learned how to be a team’ lesson the original team attacks the winning team in a free for all brawl.
Sure, the kids swear a lot and get in fights, but where’s the beer swilling, chain smoking rebellion of Jackie Haley? This time around Kelly Leak is played by a much more scrubbed and modelesque Jeff Davies, who looks disconcertingly similar to the middle chick from Hanson. Davies only outcast status comes from his attempt at glowering and the fact that he rides a motorbike. In this day in age, that’s conformity not rebellion. Sammi Kraft has the unenviable task of filling Tatum O’Neal’s shoes as ace pitcher Amanda Wurlitzer, but while she doesn’t posess O’Neal’s sheer presence, Kraft does a passable job holding her own against Billy Bob Thorton.
Speaking of Thorton, I must agree with my co-hort Tim that Thorton is the lynchpin of this film. His easy take on the never-was coach who gets by on sleazy charm and drunken bravado just lights up the film with each crass and careless line. As Bad Santa proved, Thorton has a a knack for making you like despicable characters, and Coach Buttermaker is no exception. Thankfully he’s in nearly every single scene in the film, otherwise it’d be left to the barely sketched out remains of the cast. Similarly to School of Rock, not much thought is put in to the other characters beyond their gimmick (One’s in a wheelchair! One’s a spaz! One’s a nerd! One’s fat! One’s a burgeoning sociopath!), so once the film starts focusing on the team itself, the whole endeavor loses a little bit of steam.
But to be honest, I laughed quite a bit during Bad News Bears, both due to Thorton’s perfect delivery and the general tone of the film. I’ll agree that The Bad News Bears is easily at the top of the list of recent remakes, but to be honest the bar ain’t set that high.
More satisfying than this Spring’s Kicking & Screaming, and infinitely more entertaining than any entry in the Mighty Ducks franchise, The Bad News Bears should provide you would some good laughs and honest enjoyment even without the acerbic charm of the original.