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Bad News Bears (2005)

2005 has already exceeded its limit for kid’s sport-genre movies. Between Will Ferrell’s Kicking and Screaming temper tantrum and Martin Lawrence’s failed attempt at a career Rebound every lame, overdone kid’s sports-movie cliché has been redone this year, except one. There is one movie out there that’s the anti-sports-genre flick. A film that despite using some of the clichés, turns the genre on its ass and spanks it like a penny prostitute. In 1976 it was The Bad News Bears. Now, in 2005 it’s almost the exact same film, minus the “The”.

This time around the coach of the Bears is yet again Morris Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thorton), although this time Buttermaker is a former Minor League baseball player who had a brief run (a fraction of an inning) in the Majors. His character is established firmly in the first five minutes of the movie, as he takes a beer from the ice chest in his car, pours it out, and proceeds to refill the can with hard liquor from a nearby bottle. Buttermaker’s team is full of the same reject players as the first movie, ranging from a booger eating freak to an electric wheelchair bound smart ass. Actually, smart ass is the way to describe most of the team, all of whom seem better adept at tossing around profane insults than baseballs. Just like the first film, the team is a sad bunch of misfits who kick ass better than playing the game itself and, just like the first film, the team’s salvation comes from the local bike-riding tough kid and the daughter of one of Buttermaker’s former flames.

In fact, instead of trying to improve on the original with a “re-imagining” or some other excuse for cashing in on a remake, Bad News Bears is just about as close to the original as you can get. If it were any closer, it would be on par with Gus Vain Saint’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. But then again, what would you expect from a script that’s partially written by the guy who wrote the 1976 original film?

So why remake what some would consider a classic lowbrow comedy? Well, you have to admit the original film is a product of its time. It’s extremely dated, with the look and feel of the 1970s. Consider this less of a remake than an updating of the older film. In this version kids carry around laptop computers, have electric wheelchairs, and hang out at Hooters. Instead of Tatum O’Neal’s roadside booth, this Amanda (Sammi Kraft) sells stuff in a rummage shop/flea market. And yes, there is a change in some of the language - the “spics” and “nigger” comments of the 1970s wouldn’t fly these days, but that doesn’t make the language that much cleaner. To replace the derogatory racial slurs there are plenty of comments comparing the kids to “Helen Keller at a piñata party”. The movie is rated “PG-13” after all, a rating that didn’t even exist when the original film hit theaters, and one that it definitely deserves.

The brilliance of this remake is that on top of not taking anything away from the original, just updating the setting, producer/director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, The School of Rock) casts the film with a genius selection of actors perfectly chosen for their respective roles. Billy Bob Thorton works as Buttermaker because he’s played this character before in Bad Santa. While Buttermaker may only have the language of Thorton’s previous role, the idea of him screwing some fat lady in a dressing room is not much of a stretch, although it never happens on screen. Greg Kinnear has played this smug jerk-off of a competitor for half of his career, so he’s a natural for the role here. Finally, even though the kids are made up of a combination of established child actors and newbies cast because of their baseball skills, every one of them matches the rough, crude attitude of the originals.

Bad News Bears is not one-hundred-percent perfect as a movie. As such a close remake of the original, it shares a lot of the original’s problems, particularly Buttermaker having several unjustified changes of hearts affecting how he treats the kids. One thing never changes about the character, no matter how he seems to care or not care for the kids, he’s an excellent role model - of what not to do with their lives. Unfortunately with the kids parts really being flat with no real background given, he’s probably exactly what most of them will wind up being. But, as an audience, we don’t really care about that, we just get to enjoy the crude stupidity of it all. Sometimes crude comedy can be golden, and that’s where Bad News Bears comes in.

Richard Linklater makes the best move possible for a remake and doesn’t attempt to change the spirit or the offensiveness of the original Bad News Bears. It’s an extremely welcome change of pace for a year where every movie seems to be a rehash of some older concept with a new twist. While the new Bad News Bears is definitely not a family film, it’s a movie an adult audience can enjoy and embrace, getting some mental revenge for all the crappy sports-genre flicks 2005 has unleashed until now. As always, the Bad News Bears may not win, but they’ll beat the crap out of any other team out there.