Friday, July 22, 2005

Bad News Bears

Bad News Bears (Director: Richard Linklater)

Linklater, of all the indie directors from the 90's, has been the most productive and the most consistent out of that group. You can't really say Tarantino because of his long stretches of nothing. Linklater has done top-notch films like Dazed And Confused, Before Sunrise, and Before Sunset. He emerged on the scene with Slacker. Tape was a good film, and Waking Life an interesting experiment. His big misfire is The Newton Boys, but he tasted mainstream success with School of Rock. Being from Texas, he's the anti-Robert Rodriguez. Linklater experiments more with narrative rather than with the look of his films. Bad News Bears is a remake of the 1976 film starring Walter Matthau. Bill Lancaster's original script was used, but punched up for modern times by Bad Santa scribes Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.

This is one of those movies that gets a perfect director and perfect star (Billy Bob Thornton) together, right after those individuals made films that reflect recent success and attempt to recreate the magic. With Linklater, he proved he could make a PG-13 comedy involving kids in School of Rock, and Billy Bob Thornton's Bad Santa role made him tailor-made for cussin' adults (especially in front of kids). After seeing the previews, where almost every line is the cliched cut-em-off-before-they-swear gag, I wasn't looking forward to this much. But the talent involved kept me interested.

What is now a formula for almost every sports movie, a group of lowly individuals who have no athletic ability try to play their sport with no success. Then, a coach (likely selfish, or an alcoholic, or both) comes in and teaches them the way--but of course recruitment of a couple of star players is in the cards. Thornton plays Morris Buttermaker, a former major leaguer who pitched a grand total of 2/3 of a inning for the Mariners and now runs a pest control company, is called upon by Liz Whitewood (Marcia Gay Harden) to coach a rec team made up of misfits. Obviously, things aren't perfect, and are made worse by Buttermaker's drinking. But then, he starts to care, recruits an old flame's daughter Amanda Whurlitzer (true baseball phenom Sammi Kraft) to pitch and bad-boy Timmy Deters (Tanner Boyle) to provide some offense, and suddenly there's a miraculous turnaround to move on to the championship against a team coached by Roy Bullock (Greg Kinnear).

So, yeah, we've seen a lot of this before, and the original was in itself a profane movie, but the profanity isn't what makes this funny. There's a lot of great lines in here (What do you think? I think bird food sometimes tastes like candy), a great comedic performance from Thornton, and Linklater's laid back style of storytelling all combine to make everything enjoyable, never tedious. There's even some good baseball action here, too. Most movies can't get the sport down right. There's even character development for all the players, which I thought was going to be nonexistent after the first 30 minutes, but it all comes together.

I'm obviously not a fan of the loads of remaking this summer, but this is the way to do it.


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