Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa and Bill Lancaster
The trick with the remake is to bring something new to the table, or to reapply a story to a different circumstance, culture, or era. With baseball movies, there have not been very many remakes, per se. Angels in the Outfield is the most obvious choice right off the bat, and while I didn’t love the remake (I liked the original), I didn’t love it for reasons other than it’s interpretation. It lacked execution, that’s different. There have been different movies to show the stories of Babe Ruth (The Babe Ruth Story & The Babe) and Jackie Robsinson (The Jackie Robinson Story & 42). But when you take the same story and rehash it, nearly in its entirety, with no real alterations, well, that’s what you get with Richard Linklater’s 2005 remake of the 1976 classic The Bad News Bears.
Morris Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thornton) is a drunken exterminator who has recently been “hired” by Liz Whitewood (Marcia Gay Harden) to coach a little league team of misfits, who were not allowed into the league until the lawyer Whitewood raised her case to include all the kids. After an opening game dismantling at the hand of the defending champion Yankees and their overly competitive coach (Greg Kinnear), the Bears and Buttermaker seek out the help of a girl (Sammi Kane Kraft) with a great fastball and a rebel (Jeffrey Davies) who is the best player in the league, despite his cavalier attitude. Buttermaker and the Bears make vast improvements, but soon the desire to win becomes greater than the desire to have fun.
At the core of the 1976 original’s success is the message, which communicates the harsh conditions of youth sports and the tremendous pressures parents often place on their children to succeed, when the reality is that youth sports exist as an institution to encourage friendship, growth and learning whether your team wins or loses. Certainly we should challenge out children to succeed, but the final scene of both movies goes to show how our definition of success can unfairly change over the course of a season. The Bears began as the worst team in the league, easily, then rose to challenge to be the best. Wasn’t it good enough that the players bonded, that they became better individual ballplayers, better teammates, or do out expectations change and it becomes win or bust once they make the championship game? That’s unfair to the youth and misses the point.
However, Bad News Bears misses this point as well because the original film stands just as strong and relevant today as it was then, therefore making any remake which follows its exact story line completely unnecessary. This isn’t to say Richard Linklater’s film is no good, but rather it’s me asking, “what’s the point?” By sticking so closely to the original story, it becomes a bit like Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, which takes Hitchcock’s classic and gives us a completely rehashed, shot-by-shot remake, which adds nothing new or current to the story at all. It’s useless filmmaking, which is a shame coming from such a visionary film director as Richard Linklater (or even Gus Van Sant for that matter). Bad News Bears fails to blaze its own path, tell its own story, or separate itself in any way from its source material.
Another major stumbling block for the film was the casting. Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden, and especially Greg Kinnear are fine choices for their roles, but the child casting lacks behind the original by a wide margin. I think it is very telling that Sammi Kane Kraft and Jeffrey Davies, who play the two most important parts as Amanda and Kelly, never went on to star in any other movie. Tatum O’Neal and Jackie Earle Haley were amazing in those roles, crafting characters we remember even today. Timmy Deters as Tanner is about the only performance from this version of Bad News Bears that I found to compete with that of the original. Again, the film itself is not bad, it’s fine, but that is mostly on the strength of Bill Lancaster’s original screenplay. I’m just not sure what Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, or Richard Linklater were hoping to bring to the updated version of the story. Whatever it was, it certainly didn’t translate onto the screen.