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With: Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear, Marcia Gay Harden, Sammi Kraft, Ridge Canipe, Timmy Deters, Carter Jenkins, Brandon Craggs, Jeff Davies, Tyler Patrick Jones, Jeffrey Tedmori, Troy Gentile, Emmanuel Estrada, Carlos Estrada, K.C. Harris
Written by: Bill Lancaster, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, based on a screenplay by Bill Lancaster
Directed by: Richard Linklater
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for rude behavior, language throughout, some sexuality and thematic elements
Running Time: 111
Date: 07/22/2005
IMDB

Bad News Bears (2005)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dumb-Mounded

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Richard Linklater revisits the school of "one for them, one formyself" filmmaking with Bad News Bears, another in this summer's legionof pointless and empty remakes.

You will not read a single review of Bad News Bears that does not compare it to both Michael Ritchie's original 1976 crowd pleaser and to Terry Zwigoff's brilliantly hilarious Bad Santa (2003), and those comparisons will find the new film wanting.

Linklater's remake sticks fairly close to the 1976 film, even going so far as to keep the same band of misfit kids with the same personalities and the same names. We have the quick-tempered Tanner (Timmy Deters), the tubby Engelberg (Brandon Craggs), the "spaz" Lupus (Tyler Patrick Jones), non-English speaking brothers Miguel (Emmanuel Estrada) and Jose Agilar (Carlos Estrada), African-American Ahmad Abdul Rahim (K.C. Harris) and the rest.

The "ringers" who come in to save the day are pitcher Amanda Whurlitzer (Sammi Kraft) and slugger Kelly Leak (Jeff Davies).

The big difference lies in coach Buttermaker. Walter Matthau played the role as a crotchety, drunken, grumbling curmudgeon, quite a bit like W.C. Fields. Everything was annoying to him, he had a smartass comeback for everything, and yet he was still charming and still had a connection to the kids.

Thornton basically revisits his Bad Santa persona, using his highly attuned verbal skill for spouting abusive curse words, and getting plenty of belly laughs. He manages to walk the careful line between surly and fatherly, but he does it with far less grace than Matthau.

Certain small changes show that, in making irreverent films, quite a bit less has become acceptable in 30 years. Now the screenwriters have cooked up an "origin" story for the Bears; a liberal lawyer (Marcia Gay Harden, wasted) sues to get all the children that were cut from other teams back onto a new team of their own. But having the lawyer character around at all only brings up more problems.

Other touches from the original film are gone. During a "celebration" scene, this new Buttermaker is thoughtful enough to give the kids non-alcoholic beer.

Part of the reason for all this is the lazy filmmaking by Linklater. There's no question that Linklater has the skills; Bad News Bears actually looks great. The baseball sequences are smoothly shot and beautifully edited. But when it comes to the shaping of the film and the emotional pitches, Linklater is asleep at the wheel. The players and their coach never really connect on anything more than a superficial level, and certain sequences feel choppy or rushed.

It's apparent that Linklater, who made the best American film of 2004 with Before Sunset, did not care about this material and put only the most cursory attempt into making it. Even his 2003 mainstream film School of Rock had a kind of loose, happy abandon that Bad News Bears sorely lacks.

We can only hope that Bad News Bears pays off well enough so that Linklater can get back to making movies for himself again, because those are the ones the rest of us want to watch anyway.

DVD Details: Paramount's 2005 Collector's Edition DVD comes with a commentary track by Linklater and his writers, feaeturettes, deleted scenes, a trailer, outtakes and "video baseball cards."

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