Bad News Bears Review
By Shawn McKenzie 07/24/2005
This is the ninth review I have written in 2005 alone of a remake of a movie or a TV show (with two more that I still haven’t written yet)…and I am starting to get a little remake burnout. I’m also getting a little bit of a Bad News Bears-like burnout as well…which is the burnout I get when I see one too many variations of the original 1976 classic. Fortunately, Richard Linklater is attempting do both genres right by remaking the movie that set the standard for the sports kids’ movie.
Morris Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thornton) is a drunk who makes his living as an exterminator. He smokes, drinks (a non-alcoholic beer called Goldweisen that he spikes with bourbon), is a womanizer, and swears around everyone, including clients, parents, and kids. Liz Whitewood (Marcia Gay Harden), a single mother who also happens to be a lawyer, is a woman who has hired Buttermaker to coach her son, Toby (Ridge Canipe), and the rest of his Little League team, the Bears. She got Toby on the team through an injunction against League officials that could have stopped the entire season. Buttermaker used to be a Major League player for the Seattle Mariners, but he only played for two-thirds of one inning. He figures coaching the Bears will be easy though, and he will just kick back, drink a beer, and collect his paycheck. Since the injunction stated that anyone could play on the team, Buttermaker ends up with a bunch of foul-mouthed misfits who have little to no talent. Blonde-haired shortstop Tanner Boyle (Timmy Deters) is the shortest one on the team…and the angriest one. Catcher Mike Engelberg (Brandon Craggs) is a fat kid who thinks that the completely useless Atkins diet is going to help him lose weight (he actually thinks that eating a bunch of hot dogs will make him slim down, as long as he doesn’t eat the buns.) Prem Lahiri (Aman Johal) is an intelligent Indian kid who is only playing baseball to add it to his resume for college (he is the Ogilvie character from the first movie.) Matthew Hooper (Troy Gentile) is a paraplegic who is bound to a motorized wheelchair. Garo Daragebrigadian (Jeffrey Tedmori) is an Armenian kid who’s parents think that he is wasting time with baseball (he is the Rudi Stein character from the first movie.) Timmy Lupus (Tyler Patrick Jones) is a quiet, weird kid (he was the one that Tanner called a “booger-eatin’ moron” in the first movie.) Centerfielder Ahmad Abdul Rahim (Kenneth “K.C.” Harris) is the only black kid on the team, and Mark McGwire is his baseball hero. Mexican brothers Miguel (Carlos Estrada) and Jose Agilar (Emmanuel Estrada) don’t speak any English. Buttermaker really doesn’t care about these kids, and they don’t think much of him. He hits them with baseballs, and makes them help him with his exterminator jobs. After the Bears’ horrible first game with the rival Yankees, Buttermaker starts to care, if only to get back at the Yankees’ coach, Roy Bullock (Greg Kinnear.) Roy is a jerk who verbally abuses his son Joey (Carter Jenkins), the pitcher of the Yankees, and Roy’s abuse doesn’t make his wife Shari (Arabella Holzbog) happy. Buttermaker sets out to enlist a couple of players that have actual talent. The first one that he asks is 12-year-old Amanda Whurlitzer (Sammi Kane Kraft), the daughter of an ex-girlfriend of his. At first, the skilled baseball pitcher is reluctant, because she wants to do girly things instead of being a tomboy, but she relents, if only because she wants Buttermaker to be like a father figure to her. Once Amanda joins the team, she and Buttermaker try to convince Kelly Leak (Jeffrey Davies), a dirt bike rebel with a great arm, to join (it also turns out that he can hit as well.) Buttermaker also has to find a sponsor to pay for the team’s uniforms, so he has Bo-Peep’s Gentlemen’s Club sponsor them (taking over from Chico’s Bail Bonds in the original, though the business is featured during his search for a sponsor.) They begin to win games, learn to work together…yadda, yadda, yadda…all the way to the championship game with the hated Yankees.
After seeing a bunch of kid sports’ movies, from Coach Carter to Kicking & Screaming to Rebound, I was a little hesitant to see the remake of the movie that started the trend almost 30 years ago. I had faith in Linklater, since he made one of the best kiddie movies of 2003, School of Rock. I was glad to see that they didn’t soft-pedal it. I should have known that they wouldn’t, since the script was written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the screenwriters for 2003’s Bad Santa. That’s another movie about a dirtbag who becomes an unlikely mentor for a kid, so they were the perfect screenwriting team to update this movie.
Another perfect choice was casting Bad Santa’s Thornton as Buttermaker. You couldn’t have picked a more ideal actor to replace the late great Walter Matthau. I think that Matthau would have been proud.
As for the rest of the cast, they varied in quality. Deters and Craggs were hilarious in their parts. Deters specifically was so accurate that I thought that they had built a time machine and brought Chris Barnes back, who had played the original Tanner. The two skilled players, Kraft as Amanda and Davies as Kelly, weren’t very good. I found out that Kraft is actually a real-life Little League baseball player, but her acting skills are a little stiff. She certainly couldn’t hold a candle to the original Amanda, Tatum O’Neal. I won’t bag on Davies quite as harshly, since the Kelly Leak character was one of the least interesting characters in either version. As for the adults…Harden was good, but Kinnear wasn’t mean enough. Harden’s character was slightly different from the character played by Ben Piazza in the original, and I don’t remember him much. Vic Morrow was much better as Roy Turner (instead of Bullock) in the original.
Like I said, I’m glad that they didn’t soft-pedal it, but I have to warn you…this is no kiddie movie. The adult language in the original possibly could have earned it a PG-13 rating back then, if that rating had existed at that time, but this version could almost qualify for an R-rating. They stepped it up a notch with the swearing, but at least there wasn’t any drinking or smoking, unlike the kids in the original (yes, they do drink some bottles of Buttermaker’s Goldweisen, but it isn’t spiked.) I’ve heard others object that Buttermaker takes the kids to a Hooters restaurant and he leads them in a sing-along to Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine,” but those are the least R-rated things that they do in this version.
If Linklater was going to remake any movie, I’m glad he chose Bad News Bears. Yes…I’ve heard from many other critics that it didn’t need to be updated, but critics always say that about remakes. It is remarkable that he chose to make it as faithfully similar to the original, right down to the use of Georges Bizet’s Carmen as his musical score. There are slight differences (Buttermaker is an exterminator instead of a pool cleaner; some of the characters have different names, nationalities, and sexes), but otherwise, it is almost a carbon copy of the original. It isn’t bad as 1998’s Psycho though. I just hope that he has gotten the remake bug out his head and will go on to original projects again. I guess every good filmmaker has to make at least one remake, and if they are lucky, they make a good one. This is one of the good ones, at least in my opinion.
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