Bad News Bears (2005)(Paramount Home Entertainment, 12.13.2005)
Richard Linklater seemed like the ideal director to helm the remake of 1976's The Bad News Bears because the baseball scenes in his sublime Dazed & Confused captured that film's irreverence better than any baseball movie that followed it and Linklater displayed a preternatural ability to direct kids in 2003's School of Rock. So, what went wrong? By their own admission, screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa knew absolutely nothing about baseball. Combine that with their idolatry of Bill Lancaster's screenplay for the original and you get a film trying to complete the most difficult of feats: recreating the magic of a black comedy.
In this regard, Ficarra and Requa were also burdened by their previous success writing the deliciously corrosive Bad Santa, in which, as here, the debauched Billy Bob Thornton isn't quite redeemed by outcast children. As in the original, Morris Buttermaker (Thornton) is a washed up ex-pitcher indolently coaching a motley crew of little league misfits until the cutthroat coach of the damn Yankees (Greg Kinnear) causes him to catch the competitive spirit and conscript his estranged daughter and a talented juvenile delinquent onto his team as ringers.
The team gets better and Buttermaker becomes even more of a prick before the audience and he learn that its better to be an amoral asshole teaching kids nothing than a drill sergeant living vicariously through them and instilling the credo that competitiveness is godliness.
Thornton is adequate as Buttermaker, even though he's essentially recycling his Bad Santa schtick and his banter with the appropriately smarmy Kinnear is amusing. The problem, though, is that they're not in the same league as Walter Matthau and Vic Morrow, who owned the same parts in the original and, as with Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake, you can't help but be distracted by seeing them repeat large chunks of dialogue you're used to hearing from different lips.
Some of the kids are seasoned actors but, as in School of Rock, Linklater cast most of these kids based on talent, not acting experience. In School of Rock, that made sense because the kids were supposed to be musical prodigies and the comedy was sweet, but here it makes considerably less sense because the Bears are supposed to be, well, bad, and Linklater has novice actors navigating a black comedy tightrope without the safety net of experience to fall back on.
The disc features a sun-baked 1.78:1 widescreen transfer with the choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 sound. There's a jovially anecdotal commentary track with Linklater and the writers and the featurettes "At Bat With the Bears" (11 minutes) and "Scouting for the Big Leagues" (10 minutes) trace, respectively, the casting of the adult and child actors. The latter makes good use of original audition footage.
In "Writing the Bad News Bears" (9 minutes), Ficarra and Requa (who also wrote the insipid Cats & Dogs) note how they wanted to change the original script as little as possible and say that their film's not a remake but a "remix," which isn't entirely accurate either as Bizet's Carmen is still the Bear's unofficial anthem. There's also a short featurette on the baseball scenes, 6 deleted scenes (with optional commentary) that are better than some of the stuff in the movie, 3 pointless outtakes, and video baseball cards detailing the actors' prior screen credits. -- Colin Miller