Movie review: ‘Bad News Bears’ (2005)

The Bad News Bears” was ostensibly a “kids” film in 1976. It had all the trappings of bad kid comedy: kids playing ball, stereotypical youngsters, stereotypical adults and, initially, a stereotypical story. However, once the projector ran the first reel (that’s an old-fashioned term in this digital day and age), you quickly realized that it was actually a REAL motion picture with depth and solid acting that was worthy of (but didn’t receive) the critical attention it should. So, after all this build-up, I’ll be look at its remake – “Bad News Bears” from 2005. I don’t know why they dropped the “the” in the title, but they did. Overall, it’s worth watching and has some nice updates from the original. In the end, though, it doesn’t hold a candle to the original.

‘Bad News Bears’
(2005; 113 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Richard Linklater and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear and Marcia Gay Hardin)

THESE KIDS DON’T STRIKE OUT

(NOTE: I expanded this review with some more opinion, additional trivia and the updating of links on April 26, 2018.)

I was impressed and enjoyed “The Bad News Bears” in 1976. So it was, of course, with trepidation that I awaited the remake when it came out in 2005. After all, they dropped the “the” in the title, so what else would they do? Actually, they updated it nicely with logical modernization and only a few name changes. It is a watchable film with some good acting despite not measuring up to the original.

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Billy Bob Thornton reprised the Walter Matthau character “Morris Buttermaker” in “Bad News Bears” and does a good job, but it is Greg Kinnear and Marcia Gay Harden who do the really solid work here. It took a second look at “Bad News Bears” for me to realize what Kinnear brought to the role as egotistical Little League coach “Roy Bullock.” After all, filmmakers renamed the character from “Roy Turner” and Kinnear will never be another Vic Morrow, who was the tough, child-slapping original, but he’s not Morrow’s “Turner” and that might be why the name was changed. As for Harden, she’s simply a terrific, accomplished actor who does great things even in a bad film. It was a stroke of genius casting her in this one.

After Kinnear and Harden, the work of Sammi Kane Kraft as “Amanda Whurlitzer,” who is the ringer girl pitcher brought in to help the team, is really up to the bar set pretty high by Tatum O’Neal in the original role – thankfully, they kept the same character name here – and it is truly a delight to have discovered that this oh-so-important role was filled properly. Plus, her work one-on-one with Thornton is impressive, too.

The updating in “Bad News Bears” is good and keeps practically everything in the original (introducing a physically-challenged boy to the equation is just one component updated well) but manages to be today without drastically altering the original. One thing I did like is that Kinnear’s character just knocks a cap off his son’s head and pushes him as he criticized the boy in a game in front of everyone. In the original, Morrow actually slapped his own child. I’m no PC cowboy, but I guess that happened a lot more back then (and probably does today, too).

The story is this: a forceful businesswoman (Hardin) successfully sues to get a team into a youth baseball league. They’re a bunch of misfits who didn’t make it on other teams and need their own team to be wedged into the league. The stereotype continues with the hiring of an alcoholic ex-minor league baseball player to coach them. They stink. They fail … but then they find themselves with the help of a girl who can pitch and an outcast boy who joins the team as revenge against a rival coach. Ultimately they succeed and reach the championship game. To the original filmmakers’ credit, the team loses the title game and I’m glad the remake didn’t change this key component of the film.

Here’s a look at the movie through some of the principal cast:

  • Don’t go with your first impression if you believe Oscar winner and two-time nominee (not for this one) Thornton isn’t the right fit for the role. He’s good here in a slightly different way than the lumbering presence of Matthau. Thornton isn’t as good an actor as Matthau, but he is effective here. He’s the perfect choice to navigate all the wrong places (he gets a strip club to sponsor the team instead of the original film’s bail bond office) and comes off well as the lowlife who finally digs up enough pride to do something right for the team. I guess I graded Thornton down here for his reprehensible, execrable character (and performance) in “Bad Santa” (click here to read why it’s a putrid Christmas flick). He was much better in both “Pushing Tin” and “Primary Colors” than he is here, but somehow I believe he is perfectly cast as “Buttermaker.” Of course, he won his Oscar for writing “Sling Blade” and was nominated as best actor for it, too. His other nomination was for “A Simple Plan” and I really liked his work recently in the “Entourage” film (click here for my review).
  • Oscar nominee (not for this one) Kinnear’s portrayal of the rival coach character is a bit different than Morrow in the original. Morrow was tough and narrow minded and exuded the toughness of the part while Kinnear does a wonderful job as the self-important, holier-than-thou somewhat-soft coach who is disgusted with Thornton and his ways. He reacts best in a couple of reference to his too-tight sports shorts and this one is a good resume builder for him. Kinnear was good in “Little Miss Sunshine” and “You’ve Got Mail” (click here for my review). He was also in the creepy “Auto Focus” about TV actor Bob Crane’s life and death was nominated for “As Good as It Gets.”
  • Oscar winner Harden plays single-minded “Liz Whitewood” and updates the character from its original as a male politician. Harden develops a smoldering attraction for Thornton (another neat update that having the character a woman allows), but doesn’t get enough screen time for the development such an accomplished actor could do. Hardin looks to take command any scene she’s in, but then it falls off since she doesn’t have the time necessary to do her best work. She is solid here, but not as good as she was in “Whip It” (click here for my review) or her Oscar winning film “Mystic River.”
  • Kane’s “Whurlitzer” is a neat update of the character from the original. Kane, who was 13 when the film was released, is in her first and only film here. She holds her own throughout “Bad News Bears” and is especially good in her scenes with Thornton – something that is not easily accomplished, even for a veteran actor. Tragedy ended Kane’s life in 2012 when she died of injuries in a car crash at the age of 20.

The team’s characters translate mostly well – especially Timmy Deters as the somewhat iconic “Tanner Boyle” – and here are a few vignettes about them:

  • Deters is just as spunky as Chris Barnes was in the original (he has the same haircut and has a bit chunkier build) but while the character and his actions mirror Barnes’ work, he somehow comes off as establishing himself in the role. Deters was also in “The Animal” and “Daddy Day Care.”
  • Jeffrey Davies plays “Kelly Leak” and he’s the outcast boy who is an outstanding athlete. Kinnear’s taunts send Davies into the Bears’ camp and he plays this one smooth and laid back. Davies is the opposite physical type for “Kelly Leak” as the original, Jackie Earle Haley, was a great athlete although he had a short, small, somewhat malnourished-looking physique (Davies is lanky and is physically advanced over his teammates. Davies’ only acting credit is for this film.

I’d like to take the time to examine each and every one of the other players from Brandon Craggs as husky catcher “Mike Engelberg” to Kenneth “K.C.” Harris as “Ahmad Abdul Rahim” to Tyler Patrick Jones as “Timmy Lupus,” but I don’t want to turn this into a novel-length effort. Troy Gentile plays physically-challenged “Matthew Hooper” and has good lines and delivers a solid effort – he’s had 17 more credits, including “Good Luck Chuck” and TV work, since his first film role here.

In addition to getting a strip club to sponsor the team, other updates includes Kane’s meeting with Davies at a skate park instead of over a game of air hockey; the kids’ music (of course); “Buttermaker” is a pest control employee instead of a pool man; and also modernized dialogue – such as when Thornton tells the kids that baseball is difficult because you can love it but it won’t love you back. “Kind of like dating a German chick, you know,” he tells his charges.

Bad News Bears” struck out with moviegoers as it was the 82nd ranked film of 2005 with $32.8 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. Overall, the film brought in $34.2 million worldwide on a $35 million budget, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film of the year was “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” with $380.2 million. Here are the films from that year that I’ve reviewed for this blog:

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Bad News Bears” was Kane’s only acting credit. She was a baseball player with a 70 mph fastball, according to com, when she was chosen for the part.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “The character Matthew Hooper is named after Richard Dreyfuss‘s character in Jaws (1975).”
  • Watch close and you’ll find a little homage to the original – Thornton seeks sponsorship at “Chico’s Bail Bonds” and it, of course, was the sponsor in the original film.
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Despite the remake having a higher MPAA rating than the original (PG-13 verses PG), the ratings board would not allow the remake to feature Coach Morris Buttermaker drinking alcoholic beer in the dugout as he had in the original. Strangely enough the board was fine with him spiking his non-alcoholic beer with hard liquor.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015, 2018.
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