Bad News Bears (2005)
“The bases are Loaded… So is the coach.”
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear, Marcia Gay Harden
Synopsis: A grizzled little league coach tries to turn his team of misfits into champs.
It’s difficult to come up with a compelling reason for remaking the 1976 version of The Bad News Bears. The original was a perfectly serviceable movie which held a place in the hearts of a generation who played baseball as kids back in the 1970s — and who were therefore likely to have a built-in resistance to a new generation’s version. For those of us for whom the rules of baseball are a mystery, the original was one of those movies you’d only ever watch once. Therefore nobody really wanted a remake — apart from the producers, who obviously thought there might be some money to be made.
Billy Bob Thornton assumes the role of Morris Buttermaker, the seedy, semi-alcoholic baseball coach originally played by Walter Matthau. Buttermaker works as a pest controller, and disguises his drinking by replacing the original contents of cans of non-alcoholic beer with bourbon. Quite why business-woman and mother Liz Whitewood (Marcia Gay Harden) sees fit to appoint Buttermaker as the coach of The Bears, a failing baseball team of 12-year-olds that’s about to be thrown out of its league, is a mystery. But then so is the way this seedy and reprehensible slob attracts the kind of glamour model women most men can only dream of pulling. Because he’s a bad boy? I don’t think so. The sphere of appeal occupied by bad boys is a small one, the outer regions of which bleed into selfishness and unreliability, and Buttermaker doesn’t even come close to residing within those narrow confines.
The kids that make up this team are a woefully stereotypical bunch. There’s the little kid with anger management issues who will fight anyone, no matter how big they are; there’s the fat kid with a chip on his shoulder because of his size; there’s the nerdy kid; there’s the kid that doesn’t speak English; there’s the tomboy; there’s the bike-riding rebel. And on and on. Perhaps the only child character that demonstrates even the faintest touch of original thinking on the part of the screenwriters (who include Bill Lancaster, writer of the original movie) is the kid in a motorised wheelchair. How off-the-wall wacky is that? A baseball team player in a wheelchair! No doubt there were high-fives all around when they dreamed that one up.
Bad News Bears follows a wholly predictable storyline with everyone eventually learning a few valuable life lessons as the Bears are slowly transformed from a team of no-hopers to a potential championship winning team in the course of a season. Thornton pretty much goes through the motions like a man forced to do a job he despises in order to finance something that he wants to do — which is what we must assume he’s doing. He’s outplayed in every scene by Greg Kinnear — who’s really the only decent thing about this mess — but doesn’t really seem to care. The two-faced smugness of Kinnear’s rival coach is nicely realised, never tipping over into downright villainy, always remaining a figure recognisable to us all.
Remakes have a tough enough time as it is. More often than not, they’re like young kids trying to shine in the shadow of their brilliant older siblings, but without the impetus of originality that drives any new piece of work. Anybody working on a remake must enter into the project with the sole ambition of improving on the original somehow, but it’s clear that those involved in Bad News Bears are content to simply rehash the contents of the old movie — and they don’t even make a particularly good job of that.