Why did "The Bad News Bears," the 1976 film starring Walter Matthau, need remaking? It didn't, but Paramount was stuck on remaking it, apparently of the mind that if you're going to deliver a bad movie anyway, it's just easier not to come up with a new idea.
Billy Bob Thornton reprises Walter Matthau's role in "Bad News Bears." (Paramount)
The remake starring Billy Bob Thornton, which opens nationwide Friday, stays true to the original vision: A washed up baseball player named Morris Buttermaker gets the assignment to coach a Little League team of misfits. Together, this rag-tag bunch makes it the championship against the rival Yankees, coached by an overzealous car salesman (Greg Kinnear).
Paramount calls its remake "hilarious." Not so.
The movie, directed by Richard Linklater ("School of Rock"), plods on unevenly. At almost two hours, it's much too long. Some of the lines land; some don't. Some situations are funny; some are just annoying.
The cast's talent isn't in question. Thornton can play just about anything to the hilt—the smoking, drinking, womanizing Buttermaker certainly included. Kinnear makes a good adversary, and the kids rounded up for the Bears are mostly solid.
But this one-joke movie—the joke being disregard for everything—grows old quickly.
Of course, it is the Bad News Bears, who were terribly irreverent even in 1976. Much of the idea is that these kids are rough around the edges, and their determination is part of what makes them likeable.
But the team in this remake isn't likeable—not even remotely. They spew so much profanity, act so uncivilly and exhibit such disrespect that I couldn't wait for the tale to end. I didn't get the impression that they were determined, because that would imply a positive value that these kids are never allowed to develop or possess.
Unfortunately, a message about undue pressure in kids' sports doesn't even come through. When Linklater tries to push it through near movie's end, no one really cares. It's a missed opportunity.
Maybe some kids really do talk and act like these 2005 Bears, but the last thing I want to do is celebrate it on film. If that idea had any cache, it's long gone.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for rude behavior, language throughout, some sexuality & thematic elements. Reviewer's Note: This movie offers a few earned laughs amid a sea of cheap writing. The MPAA isn't joking with the reasons for the rating.
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Bill Lancaster and Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Cast: Morris Buttermaker: Billy Bob Thornton; Coach Roy Bullock: Greg Kinnear; Liz Whitewood: Marcia Gay Harden; Amanda: Sammi Kane Kraft; Kelly Leak: Jeffrey Davies.
The movie's official Web site is here.