What in the world was director Richard Linklater thinking doing a nearly paint-by-numbers remake of the successful, irreverent Michael Ritchie film Bad News Bears-the 1976 comedy about a drunken little-league baseball manager and his team of middle-school-aged foulmouthed misfits?
For longer than the past decade Linklater has been known as a thoughtful independent writer, whose innovative characters, in cult favorites like Slacker and Dazed and Confused and critically praised narratives in sensitive art-house films, like Before Sunrise, made him a filmmaker whose next project viewers anxiously awaited. Aside from the hefty paycheck and the opportunity to make a film with Billy Bob Thornton, it’s a mystery why he’d waste his creative energy on a lightweight remake of such a simple comedy.
In fact, Ritchie’s original Bad News Bears was like many of his satiric, dramatic comedies of the 1970s that mocked America’s pastimes and institutions. Politics, beauty pageants and Olympic ski competitions were roasted
in some of the funniest films of that decade: The Candidate, Smile and Downhill Racer. The original Bears also featured veteran funnyman Walter Matthau, and the Oscar-winning child-phenom Tatum O’Neal.
The original Bears was a hilarious critique of America’s favorite pastime that debunked ideas of how baseball built character and lead young boys into a world of fair play and teamwork.
Linklater’s remake seems more of a star vehicle for the limited talents of Billy Bob Thornton. His Bad News Bears is a darker, less humorous look at the rather pathetic Morris Buttermaker, a former professional pitcher who’s hired by a lawyer and single mother of one of the little leaguers to manage a team of losers. With a scraggy goatee, tattoos, dark sunglasses and a beer can spiked with whiskey, Thornton tackles his new job with such a mean spirit that he’s clearly not the type of person any respectable parent would want
to coach his or her child. Buttermaker swears
up a storm of borderline PG-13 curses, enlists the team sponsorship of a local gentleman’s club and takes the boys out for postgame snacks at a local Hooters. Thornton is effective as a drunken womanizing slouch, but not as a comic role model for young boys in a kids’ film like this.
Where the original film had a rather charming estranged father-daughter relationship with Matthau’s coach and tomboy star pitcher, played by O’Neal, there is almost no chemistry between Thornton and Sammi Kane Kraft, who plays the coach’s estranged daughter Amanda.
The childish humor of awkward baseball practices with the team’s collection of nonathletic, oddball kids approaches the effectiveness of the original film, and most moviegoers should enjoy the classic Cinderella story of the Bears’ eventual successes.
The film’s biggest sin is the complete misuse of the talents of Marcia Gay Harden, a quality actress who won an Oscar several years ago for Pollack. She’s wasted playing the stereotypical lawyer mom who cannot make enough quality time for her boy. Like many of the feeble remakes already seen this summer, Linklater’s Bad News Bears is ultimately an unnecessary endeavor.