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Bad News Bears (2005)

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 07/22/05 14:01:10

"Iíll Take The Bears Over Santa Any Day Of The Week"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

For the second week in a row, theaters will be hit with a remake of a 1970s classic and a quite funny, but sloppily made film (Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and Wedding Crashers). Only this week the film will be one and the same. You must understand that the 1976 Michael Ritchie classic is held near and dear to my heart as it should be to millions of kids who grew up with it as one of the definitive baseball films. It also can be construed as one of the formative films of my youth; preparing me with its subversive nature a world where not everything is ďfor the children.Ē That includes adult language and a cutthroat competitiveness that slices through good intentions. Richard Linklaterís updating has too much respect for the original to contend with it and, despite being a rather surprisingly slipshod piece of filmmaking, is more than saved by a Billy Bob Thornton performance of such vibrant political incorrectness that it feels like a return to the days of growing up.

The story has remained quite faithful to the original, a landmark for the underdog template for decades to come. An overzealous parent (Marcia Gay Harden), part of the old tradition of those who believe everyone should be able to do everything (no matter what their skill level) sues a little league into accepting one more team so her son will be able to play. With all the fathers not up for volunteer duty, a paycheck falls the way of exterminator (not pool cleaner) Morris Buttermaker (Thornton), a miserable drunk who would rather be at strip joints than coaching grade schoolers.

Does anyone really not know the original? Will your eyes not light up at the introduction of Tanner, Engelberg and Lupus or the instinctual hatred of the rival Yankees? Those who know the Matthau version so well may find themselves anticipating all the various turns to the Bearsí success right up to the machinations of the championship game. It should certainly lighten the shock of parents anticipating just another light family romp. The phrase, ďthis isnít your fatherís Bad News BearsĒ has no bearing since this is PRECISELY the film your elders remember. Despite Linklaterís assertion that thereís no way they could get away with what they did 30 years ago, his version could be seen as even more cheerfully vulgar. You wonít exactly hear the classic ďJews, spics, niggers and now a girl?Ē But purists will have little leg to stand on arguing that the material has been softened.

What is unfortunate is lightning hasnít struck twice for Linklater in his casting of the kids. In School of Rock there were distinct personalities with marvelous performances. If we already didnít have a kinship with these characters going in, barely any of them would register. Ahmad Abdul Rahim (K.C. Harris), who had many key scenes and lines in the original is reduced to just the token black kid. Even Buttermaker forgets his name in the big game. With the exception of Timmy Deters as Tanner, there isnít a memorable turn in the lot. In fact, most are pretty rank, especially Sammi Kraft as speedballer Amanda. That characterís relationship with Buttermaker was the heart of Bill Lancasterís original script. Here, like many of the blueprint moments we remember, it seems painted in as a necessity. Kraft, beyond lacking Tatum OíNealís natural appeal, is wince-inducing as she spits out her lines and dampers the one soft spot that Buttermaker has to offer.

Lancaster gets co-credit on the screenplay (which should tell you precisely HOW faithful this version is despite him having passed away several years ago) along with Glenn Ficarra and John Requa who created Thorntonís Bad Santa. Unlike that shock-for-shocking-sake misfire, they now have a character whose demeanor isnít just predicated on being an awful human being. Buttermaker is just a guy who doesnít want to be bothered and has no inner monologue that prevents him from keeping every thought to himself. We love him for it. ďThis is not a democracy. This is a dictatorship and Iím Hitler.Ē His corner-cutting of the rulebook has been trimmed a tad. The ďspitterĒ is implied yet never accounted for, but at least heís still telling kids to go Craig Biggio and take one for the team. Itís a shame that Greg Kinnear canít match Vic Morrow as a foil. Heís just not threatening enough and the rivalry which became the point in 1976 - of the adults becoming more competitive than the kids - suffers because of it. Heís not even a good coach as evidenced by his handling in the big game of Kelly Leak (Jeff Davies, who is no Jackie Earle Haley.) Again, the horrible telling moment between him and his own son feels stitched in and is the only renovation which has that neutered feel we feared.

Still, fans who grew up associating the theme to George Bizetís Carmen with a misfit little league team will not have their memories trashed with just another thoughtless remake. In fact, youíll likely put on a full smile at the first notes of their anthem. The Bad Santa duo are still miles away from drafting a screenplay that utilizes the concept of character and plot development, but damn if they havenít at least figured out how to write for Billy Bob. His zingers elevate the remake into the stratosphere before we come back to earth with the mediocre acting and little else but Lancasterís original text. The remake still warrants a hefty recommendation for maintaining its balls and keeping the laughs big and often. Besides, any film where a little league team is taken to Hooters and begin belting out Eric Claptonís Cocaine is one I would have been proud to grow up with.

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