out of Five
Running time: 113
Directed by Michael Ritchie and starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neill, the 1976 original version of The Bad News Bears was a surprise hit that spawned two sequels and a TV series, as well as a host of imitators (including the recent Kicking & Screaming). We’ve seen the story a million times since then so a remake seems particularly pointless, especially as the producers even use Bill Lancaster’s original script. The result is perfectly entertaining but it brings nothing new to the original, except the cast changes.
Billy Bob Thornton plays Morris Buttermaker, a washed-up ex-ball-player who’s bribed by a strait-laced lawyer (Marcia Gay Harden) into coaching the Bears, a woefully inept youth baseball team. Previously content to spend his days drinking, picking up strippers and doing a half-assed job as the world’s worst exterminator. Buttermaker suddenly finds himself starting to care again, largely because of a rivalry with obnoxious coach Greg Kinnear.
He drafts in two kids who know how to play and suddenly the Bears start to win games. But can they beat Kinnear’s hated Yankees in the championship game?
Thornton is perfectly cast as Buttermaker and the remake is worth seeing for his performance alone, particularly if you liked Bad Santa. Like Matthau before him, he gets a laugh every time he opens his mouth and his relentless vulgarity is actually rather refreshing compared to the usual blandness of achingly PC cutesy comedies. There’s also strong support from both Marcia Gay Harden and Greg Kinnear, whose trademarked obnoxious act is familiar but always welcome.
Linklater demonstrated his talent for getting great performances from a young cast in School of Rock and he gets similar results here, to the point where you actually care about each character and they’re all allowed to be funny and realistic.
The Good and The Bad
Fans of the original will be amazed at how similar the two films are – the new version even makes the same extensive use of Bizet’s Carmen on the soundtrack. Other changes include making the cast slightly more PC (an obnoxious kid in a wheelchair, an Armenian kid trying to adjust to life in America, a statistics-obsessed Indian kid, etc) and changing the sex of Marcia Gay Harden’s character (which, admittedly, leads to an amusing scene where Thornton is caught by one of the Bears as he leaves her bedroom).
Less easily forgiven however, is a scene where the message of the ending is spelled out in case any of the audience were too stupid to understand it (“This is a moral victory, son. Sometimes that’s better”.)
In short, Bad News Bears is an enjoyable comedy that’s refreshingly crude without resorting to gross-out humour. Worth seeing, but if you’re going to buy it on DVD then get the original instead.
Bad News Bears (12A)