I’ve been disappointed before. —Morris Buttermaker
Richard Linklater gave us Dazed and Confused, and with it, showed us that he not only has an intricate genuine sensibility for the late 70s, but that he also has a sense of humor that is in touch with the time. So it defies explanation how he could take a title like The Bad News Bears and make it unwatchable.
There were some updates that made it fun (chief among them being a strip club sponsor rather than a bail bondsman), but ultimately they are not enough to sustain it. Change the script, or keep it exactly like the original, either way you can’t make it work without personality. This film is ultimately about personality.
None of the kids have the personality of the original cast, with the exception of Timmy Deters playing Tanner. Clearly this kid studied because he acts just like the original Tanner, and lucky for him not much had changed in the update. But clearly Sammi Kane Kraft was cast as Amanda for her athletic ability rather than her acting. And one would think that if the movie hinges on the relationship between Amanda and Buttermaker, you would cast an an athletic actor rather than an athlete who can’t act.
Greg Kinear is admirable in his role as the opposing coach Bullock, but whether he or the director watered down the character to a goofy, smiley-on-the-surface, middle-class dad, I don’t know. I do know that it makes it hard to believe him when he does have to deliver the lines that are supposed to make him seem ultra-competitive. Ultimately it makes it hard to really hate him. And when the payoff for that hate comes, when he is supposed to smack his kid on the mound, he only knocks his hat off, and the falling on the ground seems like an unintentional effect of the whole confrontation. No he won’t win any father of the year awards, but he’s hardly the monster we need him to be to make us feel vindicated when his kid purposely blows the next play, or to keep us feeling sympathetic to Buttermaker despite all his failings.
And so the whole movie rests on Buttermaker, and admittedly, it’s an important role. But Billy Bob Thorton seems like he just showed up to read his lines. At times, what is supposed to pass for a reflective moment, simply looks like he’s trying to remember what comes next.
Baseball movies, or any sports movies for that matter, are not simply about the underdogs coming out on top. That’s the plot to move you through the story. What they are about is Personality, they’re about Character. They’re about the type of person you have to be to not quit, to stand up and fight, to help someone and let someone help you, to admit when you’re wrong, and to make an effort to change. The original captured all that just as eloquently as Rocky, Hoosiers, or Remember the Titans, with all the wit and comedy of Major League, Bull Durham, or The Replacements. Unfortunately, this version falls short of the fence and doesn’t quite drive the message home.