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Bad News Bears (2005)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Another surprising gem from Richard Linklater"
4 stars

The important thing to remember about the original 1976 version of “The Bad News Bears” is that it was never designed to be a film for children. Sure, it dealt with kids and it went on to inspire an avalanche of kid-oriented clones (including a pair of sorry sequels) that continues to this very day (this summer alone has seen “Kicking and Screaming” and “Rebound”) but it was anything but empty-headed matinee fodder about cute tykes triumphing over adversity. Instead, the late Michael Ritchie took his gift for keenly aware social satire and trained it on the world of competitive youth sports–specifically the way that the parents and coaches were beginning to take things so seriously and personally that they managed to suck all the fun out for the kids. (Bear in mind, this was in the good old days before fistfights–and worse–among the adults became a common event at such gatherings.) In addition, the film was also smartly designed as a vehicle for the talents of the ever-deadpan Walter Matthau (in one of his best roles) and young Tatum O’Neal, fresh from her Oscar-winning work in “Paper Moon”. Those were the things that made “The Bad News Bears” such a charming and exciting film even to this day–as a spin of the DVD will confirm–and when Ritchie, Matthau and O’Neal failed to show up for the follow-up films, their absence caused them to suffer to such a degree that they began to deal in the kind of soft and stupid pablum that the original film managed to successfully avoid.

One person who obviously learned that lesson was Richard Linklater, one of the best and most diverse American directors working today (whose output includes such brilliant works as “Before Sunset,” “Dazed and Confused” and “School of Rock”) and the man selected for the unenviable task of remaking “The Bad News Bears” for a contemporary audience. As the dark side of youth sports has not changed much in the ensuing three decades, that aspect of the original Bill Lancaster screenplay, the best thing about the original film, remains relatively intact–so much so that even though Lancaster died several years ago, enough of his script remains that he still earns a writing credit here. Of course, nothing can replace the singular presences of Matthau and O’Neal and instead, Linklater has come up with a couple of casting choices–primarily by filling the role of has-been coach Morris Buttermaker with the equally singular presence of Billy Bob Thornton–that sends what could have been just another retread off into intriguing new directions.<

You know the drill. Since their parents can’t be bothered to do it themselves, former semi-pro pitcher Buttermaker is hired to coach the Bears, a team consisting entirely of outcasts rejected from the other skilled teams. Since he is doing it simply for the money, Buttermaker can hardly be bothered to coach or even offer them useful advice (his attempt to demonstrate a screwball is especially painful for all involved) and when they go up against the tellingly-named Yankees, a team drilled into steely-eyed perfection by hateful hardass Roy Bullock (Greg Kinnear in a role once memorably portrayed by Vic Morrow), they are dealt a humiliating defeat. So humiliating, in fact, that it manages to cut through Buttermaker’s alcoholic haze and he becomes determined to get them into shape, if only to give them a little self-respect. To this end, he recruits two additional players–Kelly Leak (Jeffrey Davies), a local punk who smokes, rides a motorcycle and has a hell of a bat, and Amanda Whurlitzer (Sammi Kane Kraft), a girl who learned everything she knows about pitching–a lot–from the days when Buttermaker used to date her mother.<

I assume that I don’t need to tell you that the team begins to jell and they find themselves in the championship game against the rival Yankees. In a lesser film, that would be all that viewers would get but Linklater, like Ritchie, is smart enough to give us more than just a story that revolves totally around the big game. A former jock himself, Linklater has a feel for the milieu of youth sports leagues as well as sharp observations of adults who are more interested in being connected to a winning team than whether or not their kids are actually having fun. Also like Ritchie, he is also careful to give us kids who are less like the freshly-scrubbed tykes that populate most movies of this type and more like the kind of genuine kids you might see on a team. (And yes, they still talk like sailors, although the funniest line of the original–a hilariously un-P.C. rant by one player regarding his teammates–is nowhere to be heard here.) Like his wonderful “Dazed and Confused,” Linklater brings such an eye for detail to the proceedings that many scenes have an almost documentary-like feel.<

The performances from the kids–a largely unknown mix of veterans and newcomers–are hilarious and focused–as he demonstrated in “School of Rock,” Linklater has a genuine gift for dealing with young performers that allows them to appear utterly natural before the camera. The standout here is Sammi Kane Kraft in the role of Amanda–a complete novice who was cast because of her superior pitching skills, she more than holds here own in a number of tricky scenes with Thornton to such an extent that her work is actually an improvement on the none-too-shabby performance by O’Neal. And while it couldn’t have been easy to step in Matthau’s shoes, Thornton also delivers a performance that manages to do more than simply ape what we have already seen. Of course he can pull off the drunken and sleazy side of the character like nobody else working today–I especially love a bot where he compares the agony and ecstacy of baseball to dating a German woman–but he also finds a way of shifting into a slightly more noble mode without making it too obvious or overly sentimental.

While this version of “The Bad News Bears” is not quite the instant classic that the original was–at times, some of the material (such as a recurring bit where Buttermaker takes the kids to Hooters for team celebrations and lead singalongs of Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine”) seem like bits that co-writers Glenn Ficarra & John Requa have recycled from “Bad Santa,” their previous screenplay involving Billy Bob Thornton breaking through to kids in the most unsavory ways possible–it still manages to avoid being the soulless, by-the-numbers remake that it might have become in the hands of a less talented director. More importantly, especially in a summer where the likes of “Wedding Crashers” is considered to be the gold standard for film comedy, it provides a number of big laughs. The moment in which one of the kids describes exactly the kinds of people who put catsup on their hot dogs is worth the price of admission all by itself.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12590&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/21/05 23:55:49
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User Comments

8/26/20 Jack Sommersby Absolutely no charm or wit of the original. 2 stars
10/17/10 art JUST as LOUSY as the 1976 ORIGINAL! 1 stars
4/05/08 Todd Should not have been remade. 3 stars
5/20/07 cnsheart Billy Bob is great and makes the movie worth watching. Kid actors? the best you could do? 4 stars
3/23/07 mb Empty Movie 2 stars
11/29/06 Stanley Thai An average comedy. 3 stars
10/01/06 Jeff Anderson A horribly lazy updated remake & pointless! A waste of time, even Billy Bob's 1 stars
5/22/06 Jack Sommersby Tired, needless sequel is a royal stinker. 1 stars
5/08/06 Carolyn Rathburn not a kids movie, it is missleading making you think it is. 2 stars
10/24/05 DEEDeeDEEe Linklater! U dumb ass Squeezn my Terds took more time, And it felt better when it was over 2 stars
8/16/05 Agent Sands Linklater has made the epitome of a Just Average movie. Simple, funny, forgettable, shallow 3 stars
8/08/05 Taylor this was a freaking disgrace to the original. don't waste your time!!!! 1 stars
8/04/05 ron abrams cute, but no bad santa 2 stars
8/02/05 ALDO billy bob and kinnear make it well worth watching. Probably the worst kid cast ever 3 stars
7/31/05 William Vollmer in it's own way as good as the original 4 stars
7/28/05 Bad Critic Billybod is great, just like in Bandits, and Bad Santa. 4 stars
7/25/05 Vic Just moving the previous post off the page 2 stars
7/23/05 Duffyboy666 WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?! What the FUCK is the point in THIS?! Tape the TV show instead! 2 stars
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  22-Jul-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 13-Dec-2005



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