Bad News Bears (PG-13) ★★½

Review Date: July 22nd, 2005

Even though this Bad News Bears redo is almost exactly like the 1976 original, watching Billy Bob Thornton play another grizzled drunkard, who teaches a bunch of smart-alecky kids his own particularly twisted game of baseball, is amusing enough.


Morris Buttermaker (Thornton) doesn't really let himself get too involved in anything. He wakes up, drinks a beer, exterminates a few household pests for a living, drinks some more beers and maybe gets laid. That's about it. Sure, he was once a professional baseball player, who pitched in the Show for about two-thirds of an inning, but now he just uses that experience to pick up women. One such woman, a tough-nut lawyer and overachieving single mom (Marcia Gay Harden), bribes Buttermaker into coaching her son's Little League team. Suddenly faced with a woefully inept, racially mixed team of 12 misfits, Buttermaker has got to whip them--as well as himself--into shape if they have any chance of making it to the championship, let alone beating the reviled returning champs, the Yankees and their overbearing coach (Greg Kinnear). Yeah, Buttermaker is about to get seriously involved.


Although it's hard to top Walter Matthau's original irascible Buttermaker, casting Thornton as the baseball-pelting, beer-swillin' yet lovable curmudgeon is kind of a no-brainer. Since Bad Santa, the actor--with his devilish goatee, unkempt hair and rumpled clothes--has become the new W.C. Fields, albeit an edgier one, capitalizing on the I'll-deal-with-kids-but-I-really-don't-like-them persona. On top of that, Thornton has a killer, under-his-breath delivery, especially when he's trying to dole out, er, words of wisdom to his team: ''I know a tie is a lot like kissing your sister, but the way we've been coming along, it's more like kissing a really hot stepsister.'' The kid actors--most of them unknowns--also do a fine job. You've got the usual suspects from the first movie: the rather rotund Engleberg (Brandon Craggs); the hotheaded Tanner (Timmy Deters); and the shy and weird Lupus (Tyler Patrick Jones). Then you've got slight variations: the statistic-spouting nerd is now an Indian kid (Aman Johal), who carries around a laptop; an Armenian kid (Jeffrey Tedmori) struggles with the beliefs of his old-fashioned family; and a wheelchair-bound paraplegic (Troy Gentile) represents the politically correct ''every kid can play'' mentality. The one player hard to replace in the remake, however, is the team's ace in the hole, pitcher Amanda Whurlitzer. Tatum O'Neal played her brilliantly in the original as a tough but sensitive girl who could pitch the ball like there's no tomorrow, but who was looking for a father figure. She sparred well with the crabby Matthau. In this version, Amanda is played by newcomer Sammi Kane Kraft, a real-life ace pitcher who can't quite measure up in the acting department. Tatum, you were missed.


The 1976 Bad News Bears was ahead of its time. A story about a less-than-warm-and-cuddly coach who lets the kids smoke, drink beer, curse up a storm and spout politically incorrect racial slurs wasn't something you usually saw in a so-called ''kid'' movie. But it managed to hit a home run with the anti-establishment. Unfortunately, you couldn't make the same movie in today's more conservative climate, but director Richard Linklater (School of Rock) sure tries his darnedest to give the audience a taste of what made playing with the original Bears so much fun. In this Bad News Bears, the kids still mouth-off and Buttermaker still drinks. Several scenes, such as Buttermaker telling Amanda to quit trying to make him her father, are taken verbatim from the original. Even the same, albeit cleverly disguised, variation of Bizet's Carmen punctuates the action. But my question is this: if the burning desire to re-create the classic was too great, why make an almost exact replica, minus all the political incorrectness (which basically made the original such a hoot anyway)? Why not veer off and do something different? I suppose it's Linklater's way to bring in a new crop of fans who haven't seen the Matthau/O'Neal version, as well as a way to pay homage. Still, if I wanted to see the real Bad News Bears, I'd rent the original.

Bottom Line

Bad News Bears isn't an improvement over its hilariously crude predecessor. But seeing the perpetually hung-over Billy Bob Thornton and a bunch of wisecracking kids harass each other isn't all bad news, either.