The first question that comes to mind when watching Bad News Bears — a remake of Michael Ritchie’s 1976 film The Bad News Bears — is, what is the point? There has to be a better reason to remake a movie than to drop the word “the” from its title. Yet that seems to be the major inspiration at work here.
Sure, the screenplay has been doctored to better suit star Billy Bob Thornton and attempt to turn the proceedings into a kind of Bad News Santa, but it’s ultimately more like Not All That Bad Santa. In principle, I don’t object to that, since I found Bad Santa repellent and singularly unfunny. But Bad News Bears is so creatively bankrupt that it’s impossible to care about it one way or the other.
The movie scarcely exists in its own right. Director Richard Linklater — trying to parlay his unexpected mainstream success with School of Rock — can’t even come up with a new idea for the music. His soundtrack relies just as heavily on comical uses of bits and pieces of Georges Bizet’s Carmen as the 1976 film did. Realistically, of course, the Ritchie film is nearly 30 years old, and a large portion of the potential moviegoing audience today probably doesn’t even know — or care — that it exists. So from a box-office standpoint, the originality issue is ultimately of little importance.
But that doesn’t make the remake any better on an artistic front, and it adds no luster to Linklater’s reputation. This is journeyman work with a vengeance. Following the template of the original, we’re given a drunken, over-the-hill ballplayer, Morris Buttermaker (Thornton), who agrees to coach a very bad Little League team, with comedic results and the obligatory heart-warming ending.
That was at least somewhat fresh in 1976, but in 2005, we’ve had years and years of knock-offs that worked on a similar premise. Indeed, there’s not all that much separating Bad News Bears from the Martin Lawrence loser, Rebound, from earlier this month. Bears is brasher — taking full advantage of its PG-13 rating — and has better production values, but otherwise it’s about on the same level. The new Bears, too, is just another rip-off of The Bad News Bears.
The only thing Linklater’s film has in its favor is Billy Bob Thornton, who gives far more to the movie than it deserves. He breathes some life into things with his laid-back iconoclasm, actually scoring a few laughs with material so predictable that you can write it as you go. An excellent example: the scene where he gets his charges to help him in his job as an exterminator. Two of them start spraying each other with the insecticide and he breaks it up, remarking, “That s**t’s expensive.” That’s about the level of the screenplay and the movie in general.
Unless you just can’t get enough of kids swearing at each other, there’s absolutely nothing here other than Thornton. Rated PG-13 for rude behavior, language throughout, some sexuality and thematic elements.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke