“But in today’s anything-goes society, the freshness has worn thin and a newer perspective may have been in order” – Tim Basham
Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear, Marcia Gay Harden, Timmy Deters, Sammi Kraft, Jeff Davies
The comedian Fred Allen once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of television.” It may have surprised the late radio star to see how well his quote fits in with today’s cinema. Unlike the films of Allen’s heyday, the studios now crank out the old and bypass the new with either remakes or spin-offs of earlier productions. “The Longest Yard”, “Bewitched”, “The Amityville Horror”, “Batman Begins” and “The Fantastic Four” all fit that bill.
This is not to say there’s anything wrong with reproduction (film, not family) especially if the new film greatly improves upon the original. And that brings us to the so-so news about “Bad News Bears”, the latest Hollywood do-over.
First released in 1976, the original “Bears” starred Walter Matthau as the beer-drinking, bribed coach of a band of misfitted little league-ers, and Tatum O’Neal as his star pitcher. Not much has changed in this new version, but if there had to be a remake (and the jury is still out on that decision) the casting of Billy Bob Thornton as Coach Buttermaker could not have been a wiser choice. The ease into which Thornton pulls on a role like a favorite pair of Levi’s remains one of the film industry’s most understated success stories. The performance may not be on the same shelf with “Monster’s Ball”, “Simple Plan”, “Bandits”, “Friday Night Lights” or “Sling Blade”, but in “Bears” Thornton is Buttermaker.
If you’ve never seen the original, the storyline is pretty simple. Underdog baseball team, laughed at by the other teams, gets better and makes it to the championship game against their biggest rival while learning important life lessons along the way. But what made the original so entertaining was a very funny and inventive script by the late Bill Lancaster, whose only other screenplay credit (ironically) was the 1982 remake of the creature feature “The Thing”.
The new “Bears” director Richard Linklater employs so much of the first script that Lancaster receives top screenplay billing along with Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“Bad Santa”). Well known for successfully blazing a few trails with films such as “Waking Life” and “Slacker” Linklater sticks very close to Lancaster’s original story. And that is part of the film’s weakness. In the seventies, seeing a bunch of 12 year olds cursing on screen was funny in a “did you hear that?” kind of way. But in today’s anything-goes society, the freshness has worn thin and a newer perspective may have been in order.
There were some humorous moments such as a little league team in a Hooter’s bar, singing to Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” with curvaceous waitresses. Greg Kinnear is appropriately hateable as the opposing coach. And the kids are, well, pretty much the same as the kids in the original—cute and doggone funny. Linklater’s decision to use real athletes to play the parts of the team’s best players may have made the action scenes more realistic, but in the end the film suffered from below-par acting. And in that sense, the first film succeeded, especially with O’Neal’s performance.
After the success of “School of Rock” Linklater doesn’t quite strike out with Bad News Bears—thanks to Billy Bob Thornton. But when it’s all said and done, it’s all been done before.
Reviewer : Tim Basham