John Huston once said: “”There is a willful lemming-like persistence in remaking past successes time after time. They can’t make them as good as they are in our memories, but they go on doing them and each time it’s a disaster. Why don’t we remake some of our bad pictures … and make them good?” This Distracted Globe recycles itself and examines the best and worst remakes.
By Joe Valdez
Pest control specialist and alcoholic Morris Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thornton) agrees to coach little league baseball in the San Fernando Valley after a single parent lawyer (Marcia Gay Harden) sues to add a team that “lesser players” like her son Toby can play for. Coach of the reigning champion Yankees, do-good car salesman Roy Bullock (Greg Kinnear) welcomes him.
The Bears include vulgarian Tanner Boyle, overweight catcher Mike Engelberg, weirdo Timmy Lupus, a wiz kid (who notifies Buttermaker that he signed up to play only for his college transcript), a Black kid whose idol is Mark McGwire, an Armenian kid whose father doesn’t want him to play sports, and a kid in a wheelchair with a new ailment each week.
Buttermaker signs up Bo-Peep’s Gentleman’s Club as a uniform sponsor, but passes out drunk during practice. The Bears are so awful that Buttermaker calls a forfeit on opening day. He recruits Amanda Wurlitzer – daughter of his ex-girlfriend – to pitch for them, and a delinquent named Kelly Leak, who hangs around the field on his dirtbike and proves to be a power hitter. The Bears turn their season around and face the Yankees in the championship.
Thornton – a “junk pitcher” who once tried out for the Kansas City Royals – expressed interest in taking over Walter Matthau’s role in a remake of the 1976 comedy The Bad News Bears. Paramount was developing remakes of the titles in its massive library, and after Thornton’s racy portrayal of a drunk who befriends a kid in Bad Santa, they hired the writers of that film – Glenn Ficarra & John Requa – to pen a remake for him.
The studio didn’t cast the net very far for a director. Richard Linklater had delivered Paramount the first commercial success of his career with School of Rock. Linklater felt the script was funny and was intrigued by the prospect of remaking “a really crazy ass film that they wouldn’t make today.” He signed on in September 2004, facing a summer 2005 release date.
The filmmakers insisted that Bad News Bears wasn’t a remake, but a “remix.” They wanted to change as little as possible from the original, written by Bill Lancaster. The problem with that is the original is perfect as is. If a bigger budget or better resources could have justified a remake, neither the writers nor Linklater were interested in exploring how.
Bad News Bears was wrong from the concept phase and remains a dud until it rolls out of the factory and crashes. There’s nothing here that works, which is odd, considering the script is mostly a cut and paste job from the original. The remake feels as if the cast and crew of Bad Santa wandered over to a park between setups, and as a gag, ran through scenes from The Bad News Bears. It’s almost that amateur.
The natural, low-key atmosphere of the original is gone. Instead, the remake opens with a CGI baseball flying at the screen. The humor is just as artificial. Thornton stands around with a beer and drops lines like, “You guys look like the last shit I took.” That’s not funny because nobody in the movie thinks it is. Buttermaker is like a comedian doing stale material nobody finds amusing anymore.
Kinnear and Harden are gifted comic actors, but they’re given too little to do, while Thornton is given too much. The casting of the kids is weak, most visibly in the roles played memorably by Tatum O’Neal and Jackie Earle Haley in the original. The music is a cruddy synthesized version of Carmen, the opera used so well in the original. Linklater – who chose to follow Before Sunset with this – is just going through the motions.
“Richard Linklater essentially does for Michael Ritchie’s The Bad News Bears what Gus Van Sant did for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. That is, not much,” says Walter Chaw at Film Freak Central.
Alex DeLarge at Movies For Guys writes, “What I absolutely have no patience for … is a movie made by people who were just going through the motions. Bad News Bears isn’t even THAT good, I’m sorry to say.”
“It’s not unamusing in its way, with a few laughs here and there and a generally likable demeanor. But considering it’s the fourth underdog sports comedy to be released in two months, and the third ’70s remake in the same span, you have to wonder why they’re even bothering,” says Eric D. Snider.