Bad News Bears

2006-03-30 13:19


Morris Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thornton) is a cynical, foul-mouthed drunk with a lifelong habit of quitting when the going gets tough - in other words the perfect guy to be supervising children. But several years as a minor league professional baseball player as well as a brief (as in 15 minute brief) stint in the majors is enough to get him appointed as coach of the city's most hopeless little league team - the Bears. This ragtag team of nerds, brats and weirdos has two players who can't speak English, one player who's confined to a wheelchair, and not one kid who can actually play the game. To his own surprise Buttermaker manages to whip them into shape, but not without a good deal of help from his new recruits - a 12-year-old pitcher named Amanda and a talented bad boy named Kelly.


For anyone who cares to remember Bad News Bears is a remake of a similarly 1976 comedy. While remakes can be successful - just look at Freaky Friday or Dawn of the Dead - they can also be tiresome, and this film is definitely the latter.

Bad News Bears has not one original or fresh idea in its entire length. The filmmakers take pride in the faithfulness with which they have recycled Bill Lancaster's original screenplay - which was itself a rehash of dozens of other sports comedies. Then there's Billy Bob Thornton's character - an almost exact copy of the surly drunk he played in the wickedly funny Bad Santa. This isn't a surprise considering the writing team behind that movie, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, are the same guys who "updated" Bad News Bears. The only thing that doesn't appear to have been recycled is the film stock, and at times even that's not certain.

Then again originality isn't everything. The only truly fresh thing about 1976 version of the film was its irreverent and subversive attitude - an attitude that won it hordes of fans. At the time a thoroughly anti-establishment kids film was a revelation, and any film brash enough to feature the line "all we got on this team is a bunch of Jews, spics, niggers, pansies and a booger-eating moron" was bound to get some attention.

The problem is that this attitude just hasn't travelled well. Where the original was endearing, the new film is just obnoxious. The kids, in particular, come across as brats - not as loveable tykes - and their politically incorrect outbursts suddenly seem more offensive than subversive.

Still, the film is not without its strong points. Billy Bob Thornton has plenty of great one-liners, all perfectly pitched in his signature deadpan drawl. "You guys swing like Helen Keller at a pinata party." he growls at one point. There are also some irresistibly endearing moments, like when the only black kid on the team stands up to a racist opponent (and his team mates back him), or when the Armenian kid (nearly) saves the day and finally impresses his sceptical dad.

The filmmakers also went to great lengths to make the baseball in the movie authentic, even casting newcomer Sammi Kane Kraft, an all-star baseball player, in the role of Amanda Whurlitzer. It's just a pity they didn't concentrate more on the fundamentals of the movie and less on the technical details.

Is it worth seeing on the big screen? Not particularly - though it wouldn't go down too badly as a mildly amusing Sunday night DVD. If you can stand the tired plot and the obnoxious brats the funny parts will make the exercise worth it - almost.

- Alistair Fairweather

It's an ecologist's dream - a film made entirely from parts recycled from Hollywood's trash can.

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