Bad News Bears (2005)
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|Movie Review by Peter |
July 22nd, 2005
My question would be "why": why was this necessary? In this, The Summer of Remakes, we've seen Batman Begins reveal a darker, more realistic territory for the Dark Knight to patrol, and War of the Worlds, which, as you've certainly had pounded into your head by every critic in the land, updated the classic novel and movie to this world of terrorism. Both were reasonable updates of previous works. Even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was worth a go, for no other reason than to see what kind of twist the demented Tim Burton could put on the classic. But, the Bad News Bears? Is there anything that one could improve on from the original, one of the better sports movies ever made? Entering the screening, I leaned towards "no." Walking out, I was absolutely sure of it.
This isn't to say that Richard Linklater's Bad News Bears is a bad movie. To be honest, it's often as funny as the original, though lacking in its originality. And realism. And balls.
Subbing for Walter Matthau is Bad Santa, as Billy Bob Thornton takes on the role of Buttermaker, former star turned low-rent exterminator hired by a hassled mother (Marcia Gay Harden) to coach a team of literal rejects. The team sucks from the start but eventually gels into a winner, especially after Buttermaker brings in several ringers in the form of Amanda Whurlitzer and Kelly Leak. They butt heads in the final with the Yankees, coached by the overbearing Greg Kinnear; in the end everyone learns something about good sportsmanship and respect while getting doused in beer.
As much as Thornton and Linklater are the right men for this project, there's still not enough talent and energy to make this a winner. Linklater brings a smart eye to his film, but follows the path of the original a bit tightly. His film is competently made: game montages and John Fogerty's obligatory "Centerfield" are used sparingly, and instead of tight, fast cuts, Linklater opens up the camera at times and dwells longer on shots to add a sense of reality to the proceedings. The man knows what he's doing; he's just doing it with the wrong film. Meanwhile, Thornton can sleep through parts and make them perfect, and that's what he seems to be doing here, channeling his part in Bad Santa – just dialing it down a notch. Been here, done that.
The rest of the cast is mixed. Kinnear looks lost in a heavily predictable part, and as much of a revelation as Harden always is, there's little in her part that demands her talents. The two are wasted here, and serve only to remind us that we're watching a movie, robbing the film of some of the realism that the original possessed. The kids, save Kraft, are the best performers, particularly Timmy Deters as Tanner, who reminds us of the same role in the first film, just without his infamous line.
About that line – the 1976 film had the chutzpah to drop the sentence "All we got on this team are a bunch of Jews, fellows, fellers, pansies, and a booger-eatin' moron!" into a kids sports movie, and it helped establish a credibility for the film that few others in its genre come close to. Here, nothing more offensive is uttered; what must a man do to get an f-bomb or two? Of course this is all to placate the MPAA, but if you really want to update the original, brave offending the ratings gods and let the kids speak how they really would around someone as insufferable as Buttermaker.
But back to the cast, specifically Sammi Kraft as Amanda. This actress, in her first role, is horrid. Terrible. She doesn't completely stink up the screen, and would be fine in a lesser part, but Whurlitzer is the most important player on the team. Contrast Kraft's performance with that of Tatum O'Neal's, and wonder for a second if it would be too much a suspension of disbelief if Linklater had asked the latter to reprise her role for the remake. Listening to each mumbled line by Kraft, I prefer the original myself.
As is the case for most of the film. Linklater's painting by numbers here, and sometimes the path he has to follow makes the picture look downright odd. Harden's character has no problem when Buttermaker puts in subs in the top of the last inning, rooting for the team all the while, only to yell at him three outs later when the damage is done. Why the delay? Oh, yes, we must follow the original film. The few additions are pointless as well, such as the groupies that inexplicably show up at the games to root for Buttermaker – if Thornton's character is that much of a ladies man, why is his life this poor? None of these questions are answered and none of them matter, because Linklater's just trying to remake a classic funny film here so a new generation of kids can grow up on the Bad News Bears. He's successful in one respect: it's an enjoyable funny movie almost worth seeing, if nothing stellar. There's an easier way to reach that goal, however, and one that doesn't involve wasting a lot of your money: Netflix
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