Dir. Richard Linklater.US. 2005. 114mins.
To a generation ofAmericans, Michael Ritchie's 1976 comedy Bad News Bears was a culturaltouchstone, a rough-around-the-edges feature that celebrated an underdogbaseball team as it battled against adversity.
The problem with RichardLinklater's remake is that the style of films made by Hollywood in the 30 yearssince. Bad News Bears 2005 does not compare favourably against itssource material, and is likely to disappoint those with fond memories of theoriginal. However, it stands well on its own terms and offers somethingenjoyable to those unfamiliar.
There are worse thingsduring a summer starved of non-high concept entertainment than a modern remakeof a good old-fashioned story. Box office in the US, where the film opens onJuly 22, should be helped by audiences who recall Walter Matthau et al, as wellas fans of lead Billy Bob Thornton (in the US, the higher certificate BadSanta took $60m).
The similarly themed KickingAnd Screaming, featuring the more high-profile Will Ferrell, has now taken $52mafter its mid-May release, although its focus was on football - less popular inthe US than baseball. Marketeers are also advised to make play of RichardLinklater's role as director of School Of Rock, which took $131mworldwide, $81m in the US alone.
Ancillary should also begood, especially given the Thornton name and value of the original brand -after all, replica jerseys from the original Bad News Bears sell formore than $150 at online stores.
Overseas, the film shouldstill be accessible in countries that do not play baseball: this is a story inwhich universal values such as teamwork, redemption and whether or not winningis everything hold most sway, not the sport. Regions where the game is popular- Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Asia - should see appreciably higher returns, if still behind the US.
The plot sees Billy BobThornton cast as Morris Buttermaker, an alcoholic, ex-professional baseballplayer with less than one game as a major leaguer, coerced into coaching a teamof young no-hopers. Chief nemesis is Roy Bullock (Kinnear), rival coach to theleague's established champions, who stand in the way of the Bears' success.
While original screenwriter,the late Bill Lancaster, is among the credited writers, screenwriters GlennFicarra and John Requa - who worked on Bad Santa - ratchet up the badtaste quotient. Both versions of Bad News Bears are full of foul-mouthedpre-teens, but the level of humour in the remake is significantly skewed toward'potty' jokes.
An oft-quoted line from theoriginal has Tanner, the most obnoxious and foul-mouthed of the kids (andfavourite character for many of the film's devotees) describing the lameness ofhis team mates: 'All we got on this team are a bunch of Jews, spics,niggers, pansies, and a booger eating moron.'
In 2005, Hollywood clearlybelieves that a more conservative America will not accept a pint-sized 12year-old uttering these words. As a result, the remake's humour lacks some ofits predecessor's comic sophistication and Tanner (here played by TimmyDeters), still the most obnoxious, is reduced to an almost endless stream ofscat jokes.
As Buttermaker, Thornton isan acceptable stand-in for Matthau, and delivers some of the best lines in thefilm ('You guys swing like Helen Keller at a pinata party') but therest of the cast fall flat by comparison. Kinnear is fine as the smarmy andarrogant coach of the rival Yankees, but cannot match the true menace portrayedby the late Vic Morrow in the original.
Marcia Gay Harden gives aforced performance as a humourless parent who hires Buttermaker and then, in anout-of-nowhere (and completely pointless) plot turn, seduces him.
The real weak link, however,comes with the younger cast members. The original was packed with naturaltalent, including Tatum O'Neal. In contrast, their 2005 counterparts comeacross as stiff and forced, despite the fact that for several this is far fromtheir first time in front of the camera. One standout is Sammi Kraft as theBears' female top pitcher, apparently a star player in real life.
The real difference betweenthe two films can be summed up in how the Bears celebrate season's end. In theoriginal, Buttermaker gives them beer and the parents barely object: in theremake, it's non-alcoholic beer.
Richard Linklater'sdirection is not quite up to his usual high standards, and pacing subsequentlydrags in several stretches.
Media Talent Group
Detour Film Production
J Geyer Kosinski
Billy Bob Thornton
Marcia Gay Harden
Sammi Kane Kraft
Kenneth KC Harris
Tyler Patrick Jones