Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Billy Bob Thornton……….Buttermaker
Sammi Kraft……….Amanda Whurlitzer
Ridge Canipe……….Toby Whitewood
Carter Jenkins……….Joey Bullock
Brandon Craggs …. Engelberg
Jeff Davies……….Kelly Leak
Seth Adkins……….Mean Yankee
Tyler Patrick Jones……….Timothy Lupus
Troy Gentile……….Matthew Hooper
Emmanuel Estrada……….Miguel Agilar
Carlos Estrada……….Jose Agilar
Rocky showed the world that the tale of the underdog was both financially viable as well as artistically solid; tales of underdogs in sports became more fashionable to tell. And along came a movie soon after to spoof it all, The Bad News Bears. Featuring a foul-mouthed group of children in the Little Leagues of California who go from bad to good because of their coach, The Bad News Bears spawned two well-grossing sequels featuring a rag tag group of losers who, with a couple key additions each time around, manage to overcome the odds in a way that was shocking for the time period. Over 20 years after The Bad News Bears Go To Japan completed the epic trilogy, the movie that started out the series gets remade with Billy Bob Thornton in the coach’s seat in Bad News Bears.
Thornton steps into the role formerly occupied by Walter Matthau as Buttermaker, a washed up minor leaguer being paid to coach a group of underachievers. Buttermaker is less than enthused about his team until the coach of an opposing team, Bullock (Greg Kinnear), riles up Buttermaker’s sense of winning. Realizing he needs some actual talent on his team, he recruits a girl with a million dollar arm in Amanda Whurlitzer (Sammi Kraft), as well as local hooligan Kelly Leak (Jeff Davies). With the influx of talent and Buttermaker’s knowledge of the game, the Bears follow your typical underdog path to success, except with a lot more vulgarity.
In an era that includes foul-mouthed children en masse, most notably South Park, Bad News Bears doesn’t do or say anything that is shocking or original. Foul mouthed children are nothing new or exciting, especially after hearing Eric Cartman string together four-letter words that would make even the most ardent soldier blush, and Bad News Bears accepts this and doesn’t work entirely blue because of it. The kids still use bad language but the temptation to put on a clinic in childhood profanity was thankfully avoided. These kids use naughty language but it’s done in the manner a child would use it; there aren’t long soliloquies peppered with the seven dirty words that an adult would think a child would use. The amount of profanity is strong enough to earn a PG-13 rating but not the R a movie like Bad Santa had.
And with the same star appearing in both movies in Thornton, Bad News Bears has a toned down version of Thornton’s Willy at the helm. Thornton doesn’t try and ape the performance of Matthau. He blends his profane burglar Willy with his intense Gary Gaines from Friday Night Lights into a character who’s equal parts repulsive and likeable. While he lacks the sort of profane tirades that Willy would launch into and the sort of measured cool Gaines has on the sidelines, Thornton takes these two very different characters and is able to create a likeable character that is easy to cheer for. In a movie filled with sports clichÃƒÂ©s, Thornton is there to rescue the movie as he is remarkably funny throughout.
It is the children that take a lot of the wind out of the sails of this story. They are a motley crew of sorts that is blended into a well oiled machine. The standout trait in the group is that the baseball scenes are all solidly done. Thornton’s years as a baseball player prepped him for being able to do the physical portion of Buttermaker but the children look just as solid in the field. As the season progresses and the team starts to win the level of play goes up as expected; it’s a gradual shift that lends Bad News Bears an air of credibility when it comes time to shift into being a sports movie. While the baseball looks good, the team itself doesn’t feel good.
The team is bland and not very well developed, as each character has a moniker, (the fat kid, the crippled kid, the black kid who idolizes Mark McGwire, the hooligan, etc.) they aren’t as developed as they could be. Kraft and Davies may certainly look the parts of Amanda and Kelly but they seem out of their element as the star pitcher and home run hitter respectively. There is a subplot out missing that might have developed their characters a bit more; they are good enough to get by but not good enough to turn the corner of the movie from good to great.
And that’s what Bad News Bears truly is. It has lots of quality laughs, the best sports scenes from children in a movie this year and some genuinely good (and completely raunchy) laughs and meshes them into a satisfying story about some misfits trying to win.