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Bad News Bears

Few directors are capable of swapping creative hats back and forth without losing a step or two in the process. It’s a practice that every director must embrace to some extent in order to sustain their more artistic yet less commercially viable projects, but it’s the transitioning back and forth that usually degrades the artists’ skills.

Richard Linklater seems to have found the hidden secret to this practice because he seems to get better with each switch of the hat. He followed the art-house animated venture Waking Life with the uber commercial laugh-fest School of Rock to great success, and then followed that up with a return to his more subdued euro-meanderings with the brilliant Before Sunset. Now it’s time for the pendulum to swing back in favor of the cash boon, and hopefully his latest endeavor will strike a cord with filmgoers this weekend.

Bad News Bears deserves an audience, but could risk polarizing Moms and Dads expecting a completely family friendly film upon entering the cinemas with their tots. The thing they may be forgetting is the original Bears pushed the limits of decency in a family geared film of the time, and Linklater has pushed the envelope further with his remake.

The original film pitted beer swigging Walter Matthau against a foulmouthed Tatum O’Neal. This time around, Morris Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thornton) has his work cut out for him in the Bears, a team of misfits that were all but pushed out of the local little league due to their lack of prowess on the diamond.

The only thing keeping the team in the program is an injunction filed by team Mom, Liz Whitewood (Marcia Gay Harden). She hires Buttermaker, a washed out ex-ballplayer with two-thirds of an inning of play in the Majors to his name, to coach the team into contention. The only problem is that the only thing Buttermaker is intent on coaching is a six pack of brew into his belly.

The crew Buttermaker is sentenced to coach has little talent and even less drive. In a hilarious roll call sequence, Buttermaker learns that his team is a slice of ethnic diversity. With kids ranging from Spanish speakers to paraplegics on the team, Buttermaker has his work cut out for him. Seeing any of the TV spots will clue you into the early laughs, but some of the more racy ones are pulled from dialogue exchanges, and they keep you chuckling throughout the entire film.

Juggling his time spent coaching the Bears with his job as a rodent exterminator Buttermaker stoops to new levels of low by making the kids fumigate crawlspaces, spray insecticides, and serve him cocktails in the process. The team quickly grows tired of his lackadaisical approach to coaching the team and issues an ultimatum.

After suffering a first inning pummeling that results in a double digit score without recording an out, Buttermaker calls the game to put the Bears out of their misery. In the process he creates a rivalry with Yankee coach, Ray Bullock (Greg Kinnear), and stokes the ire of the Bears, prompting their vote to disband the team indefinitely.

This sparks something in Buttermaker, as he identifies with the team's desire to win despite the deficiencies on the field, so he rededicates himself to coaching the team and works on making some mid-season acquisitions that could help both their offense and defense.

The first of his two late additions is his own daughter, Amanda Whurlitzer (Sammi Kraft). Her arm is impeccable, and her desire to bond with her bastard father is subdued beneath a cold calm exterior, a defense mechanism if there ever was one. With Amanda on board, the team has solved its pitching woes, as Amanda throws heat like no other in the league, and she exercises the on the mound wherewithal to rival even the most cunning Major League ace.

Amanda also brings another key player into the fold, by helping Buttermaker recruit the local punk loner, Kelly Leak (Jeff Davies). Leak has a history with Bullock, who obviously resents him for quitting the Yankees for unknown yet assumable reasons.

One of the defining moments that truly set the original, The Bad News Bears, apart from your typically uplifting coming of age sports story takes place in the third act, during the championship game pitting the Bears against their overly competitive rivals The Yankees. It’s a gem of a scene, in which the opposing team’s coach Roy Turner (Vic Morrow) proceeds to berate his son and star pitcher while on the mound.

It’s a subdued moment of realization, and one that makes the film work. Thornton, as Buttermaker, handles the scene naturally and with picture perfect precision. His handling of this sequence is only bettered by his build up in arrogance, selfishness, and downright crude behavior towards the team. It’s a turnaround that not only brings the remake to a satisfying close, but pays its respects to the original in the process.

On an overly crowded weekend, Bad News Bears could easily get lost in the shuffle, but it deserves a view nonetheless.


Mario Anima

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