Movie Mom

Here is a list of reasons to remake The Bad News Bears:




And here is a list of reasons not to:

1. It’s been done. And re-done. And re-re-done. The original 1976 movie sparked a perennial series of movies about scrappy little sports teams made up of losers and klutzes who somehow, in the space of one quick montage or two, develop skills, understand the importance of teamwork, find some respect for themselves and each other, and provide redepmption — and often romance — for their previous cynical and/or burned-out and self-centered coach. In the last few weeks alone, Kicking & Screaming and Rebound have tried to apply the formula to soccer and basketball.

2. Times have changed. When the original was released almost 30 years ago, less than a decade after the institution of the Motion Picture Association’s rating system, it was still a shock to hear crude, vulgar, and profane language spoken to and by children. In 1976, the idea was so outrageous it was impossible to take it seriously and there was some appeal in the frank unpretentiousness, even subversiveness it brought to a post Ball Four-world just getting used to the idea of athletes being less than idealized all-American heroes. Since then, we are used to, even exhausted by the no-illusions bad behavior by athletes. And, in part because of the success of the original movie, we are used to, even bored by the idea of kids using bad language.

3. The original wasn’t that great to begin with, and whatever appeal it had has diminished over time. Take away the gimmick of the bad language, and there’s not much left in the original version or the remake. The script’s idea of updating is to change the sponsorship of the kids’ team from “Chico’s Bail Bonds” to “Bo-Peep’s Gentlemen’s Club.” This provides an excuse for frequent reaction shots of the Bo-Peep girls cheering in the stands.

4. Most important of all — it may have been possible to make a worthwhile remake of The Bad News Bears, but this is not it.

This is a one-joke movie, and the joke is not a good one. The 2005 edition is, it must be said, Bad News.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Morris Buttermaker, a washed-up baseball player (his career in the major leagues lasted less than one inning) turned exterminator who is hired to coach a baseball team made up of 12-year-olds that is only in the league because of a lawsuit. Buttermaker is there for the paycheck.

The kids are obnoxious and hopeless. So is the coach. They get so badly creamed in the first part of their first game that they forfeit. But then, inspired in part by the arrogance of the championship team’s coach (Greg Kinnear), Buttermaker decides to do some actual coaching. The kids improve. And when Buttermaker seeks out the daughter he has not seen in three years to get her to join the team as a pitcher and gets her to entice onto the team a juvenile delinquent-type with an attitude problem who can throw and hit, the team starts to score, then win. And guess whose team they play in the season’s last big game?

There was a 10-year-old sitting in front of me who laughed uproariously every time someone in the movie used the s-word. He laughed a lot. Most of the movie is the same thing over and over — either Buttermaker or the kids saying something completely obnoxious and inappropriate. It doesn’t work any better the 99th time than it does the first.

Furthermore, for anyone who cares about these things, Buttermaker’s decision-making and redemption seem completely arbitrary. I’m not saying we need an “aha!” moment with a light bulb going on over his head, but there should be some sort of narrative basis for character development, even in a slob comedy.

Director Richard Linklater, who handled the same theme superbly in School of Rock, does not have the benefit of a terrific script this time. The characters are not involving or believable.

The movie’s one asset is the always-underappreciated Billy Bob Thornton, whose understated delivery and impeccable timing give the flimsiest of dialogue some snap and verve. He has the kids come with him on an exterminating job and when two of them start to spray each other with the lethal chemicals, he tells them to stop. You just have to hear how he then says, “That stuff’s expensive” to understand what it means to be a movie star. Someday someone will give him a part in a much better movie and that will be very, very good news indeed.

Parents should know that this is one of those movies that drives a truck through the loopholes of the MPAA rating system. Most will find it unsuitable for chldren. It features constant crude, vulgar, profane, insulting, racist, sexist, homophobic, and otherwise imappropriate language used by and to children, but because it does not include the limited “automatic-R” words, it gets a PG-13 rating. It has jokes about cancer, child abuse, casual sex (a t-shirt reads, “She looked good last night,” a visit with the children to Hooters), and disabilities. A coach insults his players and they insult eadch other (though it omits the most famous quote from the original movie, with a highly un-PC description of the team). Fathers speak abusively to their children. The coach is unrepentent (most of the time) and irresponsible. He drinks constantly (including drinking and driving). He smokes, lies (and tells a child to lie), and has what appears to be a one-night stand with the mother of one of his players. A strength of the movie is its portrayal diverse characters, including a disabled kid who is tough and resilient.

Families who see this movie should talk about Buttermaker’s comment that once you quit, it makes it easier to keep quitting. What is a “moral victory” and was this a good example?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original The Bad News Bears as well as some of the movies it inspired, including The Mighty Ducks and Sandlot.

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