I always got a kick out of the 1976 Walter Matthau/Tatum O'Neal vehicle The Bad News Bears,and I've watched it many times over the years. The picture got a lot of attention in the day for the raw language and situations the child characters found themselves in. But the interplay between Matthau and O'Neal, Matthau and the kids, Matthau and the adults [detect a trend there?] creates a sort of whimsical atmosphere. That, with a clear love of thegame of baseball, made the original work notable andentertaining.
So it was with some trepidation that I sat down with the remake of it -- 2005's Bad News Bears,this one with Billy Bob Thornton apparently trying to channel the late Matthau. Here's my take:
The Good: Not much, frankly. Billy Bob is serviceable as Buttermaker, but viewed -- inevitably -- through the patina of Matthaus's bravura performance almost 30 years previously, it comes off as a pale imitation of the original. There are a couple of decent gags, but I found myself amused really only two or three times.
The Bad: Richard Linklater, the director, clearly couldn't figure out how to handle this remake. Retell the story, or change it up enough to make it independent of the original? What results is a mish mash of attempts at originality, interpsersed with distracting thefts from the original. For example, Linklater steals almost verbatim the gag involving Tanner in the Bears's first game. They can't stop the Yankees from running the bases, so in frustration Tanner starts throwing his glove at the opposing base runners. The only change is that Linklater has the Tanner character go an additional step. He jumps on the base runners as well. Big deal. In another example, Buttermaker is pitching to his team in practice, all the while getting crocked. The scene culminates with a cut to a prostrate Buttermaker, completely passed out over the pitcher's mound. Linklater does the same thing, with the only extension being the kids actually picking his pocket and stealing his money. Hilarious. These retreads of the original's scenes continue throughout, even down to using the same camera angle as the original on one scene, when Timmy Lupus finally gets a chance to catch a fly ball. Here, the sublime finally becomes the ridiculous. Lupus gets his glove on the ball, but he doesn't get the catch; instead, it's bounces off to be caught by Hooper, a paraplegic [yeah, you read that right], who gets to play in the outfield. Uh, how does this kid bat out of a powered wheelchair? Well, we don't have to figure that one out, because Linklater conveniently never puts him up at bat.
The worst failing is the Tatum O'Neal character, Amanda. The young actress is sadly miscast, and has no chemistry with Billy Bob at all. The key to the original was the implicit, bittersweet interplay between Matthau and O'Neal. That interplay is wholly nonexistent in the new movie. This movie just never captures any of the whimsy that made the original so special.
The Bottom Line: One Flick. Watch the original. You'll see the same gags, and much better executed.
UPDATE: I watched the original Bad News Bears yesterday, and realized that I was flat wrong with my reference to the camera angle on the penultimate Lupus catch toward the end of the picture. The 2005 shot was a point of view shot from the ball, in the air. In the 1976 movie, the shot is from the ground level. Sorry about the mistake, but I still stand by my take on the two fims. The first one just hangs together better, and is sweeter than the new one, language notwithstanding.