BAD NEWS BEARS (Richard Linklater, 2005)
Michael Ritchie’s 1976 comedy THE BAD NEWS BEARS, with Walter Matthau as alcoholic coach Morris Buttermaker, loses the determiner for Richard Linklater’s BAD NEWS BEARS remake starring Billy Bob Thornton. The story is essentially the same. Long past his split-second career in the majors, Buttermaker makes a living as an exterminator and decides to rake in some extra bucks coaching a team of misfits that no one else in the league will take. The kids can’t play—some have no interest in playing—and the coach is usually half in the bag during practice and on game day.
Although BAD NEWS BEARS is not a shot-for-shot remake of the original, it is strikingly similar to the point where its existence is hard to defend. Considering all the failed de facto rip-offs (KICKING & SCREAMING, REBOUND) that have softened the hard edges, maybe revisiting the source of inspiration is reason enough. Working from Bill Lancaster’s original screenplay, BAD SANTA screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa update references—Buttermaker takes the kids to Hooters to celebrate, one kid is on the Atkins diet--and tailor the insults, slurs, and swearing to tolerable standards in today’s political environment. Kids saying inappropriate things may not please parents, but nevertheless, it’s funny. Thornton does a PG-13 riff on his BAD SANTA character to hilarious effect. His performance as the gruff, apathetic Buttermaker goes a long way in justifying the remake. As in SCHOOL OF ROCK, Linklater employs non-professional child actors, although he gets diminishing returns in BAD NEWS BEARS. Linklater’s films frequently sympathize with the outsiders and losers, which must have attracted him to this project. The fighting and hazing among the young baseball players recall the actions of the high school students in DAZED AND CONFUSED. They may not grow up to be tomorrow’s leaders, but as Buttermaker discovers with his band of outcasts, the kids are all right.
(A shorter version of this review first aired on the August 2, 2005 NOW PLAYING)