Hey! They’re remaking the 1976 classic film “The Bad News Bears!” What does that mean? Bad news for all of us! Yes, those Bad News Bears are back in action and it’s a sad state of affairs for an easy grand slam of a movie with a (mostly) fine cast and an awesome director. How can you mess up the hanging curveball of drunken coach making a bad baseball team good? It’s easier than you might think.
I’m not on the bandwagon that says all remakes are pointless and lame. Although most have proven themselves to be both of those things while laughing all the way to the bank. However, “The Bad News Bears” remake just isn’t a very good movie. In fact it’s kind of like living in the San Fernando Valley where it was filmed. It’s big, kind of neat, has nice weather and has all the accouterments of a real city. But there’s no “there” there. “The Bad News Bears” feels like it followed the roadmap laid out by the 1976 version, but forgot to add all the heart and character of the original. I hate to compare the two, but if you’re going to go out of your way to stay true to the original, you’re going to get that comparison and it’s a pale one to say the least. The plot has a few updates, but it’s basically the same. A washed up drunk of a pitcher is paid to coach a baseball team of losers. Seeing that this team has no chance to win as is, he calls in a couple of ringers in the form of his ex-girlfriend’s daughter Amanda (Sammi Kraft) and a local hooligan named Kelly (Jeff Davies). The team starts playing better and they all learn a little bit about fair play and how to stick it to the man. Here’s the thing though, the original “Bad News Bears” is a truly beautiful film. It’s chock full of subtlety and low-key character development. It’s touching and sad and it makes you think. The remake spells everything out for you, beats you over the head with a half-baked message and even goes so far as to resolve character issues that don’t need resolving. There’s also no characters to root for in the least. Thornton’s Buttermaker has some great lines, but I never cared about the guy. Maybe it’s the fact that his character wears sunglasses throughout the entire film. You see a characters soul through his eyes and Thornton does a nice job not letting us in. The Tanner Boyle character, who damn near stole the film from Matthau in the original, looks like a young Ellen DeGeneres in a blonde shaggy wig. Plus, the kid cannot act. None of these kids are particularly good and there’s virtually no chemistry between them. They, like the movie, seem to be offering up a bad imitation of the original. That’s a shame because director Richard Linklater did an outstanding job with School of Rock. In fact, it was because of Linklater I had such high hopes for this film. Maybe his talent with kids only goes as far as the script, which is pretty excusable.
Another issue of many is the ham-handedness of this movie. Buttermaker gets a strip club to sponsor the team and has strippers come to all the games to root on the team. The sight gag of strippers at a little league game is funny…once. After that it’s about as hysterical as that friend who chuckles and nudges you every time an announcer says “no balls on the batter” when you’re watching a baseball game on TV. We get it people, there’s strippers at a little league game. Har de har. Yet the movie just trudges on, going through the motions of the original with no spark. No reason. No heart and a few laughs.
I will say that this movie may have suffered from the unbearable, crushing weight of political correctness. The 1976 version had no such problems and parents should be warned that the original is not a kids movie. If you think trying to explain naughty TV commercials or music videos is tough, try explaining what comes out of some of these kids’ mouths. Yet, it’s funny to see what the ratings board considers kosher nowadays. Apparently, Buttermaker is O.K. to be around kids if he drinks a pint of whiskey mixed with non-alcoholic beer, but not if he’s actually drinking beer. Go figure. “The Bad News Bears” still manages some decent foul language and some really uncomfortable moments between kids and adults. But being forced to be P.C. doesn’t mean you have to dumb everything down and repeatedly go for forced laughs.
If drunken loser Buttermaker were to use one of his bar educated catch-phrases to describe this movie, it might go something like…”The only thing funnier than this movie is waking up next to a dead hooker.” Or maybe he’d tone it down with “this movie serves about as much purpose as tits on a boar.” However, I think he’d feel more like he had a wicked hangover and spent the day wondering “why did I do that?”
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