After "School of Rock", director Richard Linklater decided to work with child actors once again in a remake of the much beloved "Bad News Bears", the '75 comedy starring Walter Matthau. This time around, "Bad Santa" writers Glenn Ficarra & John Requa turn the movie into a vehicle for former "Santa" Billy Bob Thornton, and the results, while not outstanding, are pretty decent.
The film stars Thornton as former baseball prospect Morris Buttermaker. Currently working as an exterminator, Buttermaker decides that, in order to make some extra money, he'll sign up to coach one of the local little league baseball teams. Of course, he ends up on a team that's largely made up of kids who weren't considered good enough for inclusion on any of the other teams.
Grumpy and mean-spirited, Buttermaker couldn't care less at first (when forced to seek out a sponsor for the team, the first place he goes to is a strip club), but eventually warms up to the job and starts to attempt to turn things around. However, the process of trying to get a winning team together just may involve adding a few stars, including Amanda Whurlitzer (Sammi Kane Kraft), the daughter of an ex-girlfriend.
Despite child actors being famously difficult to direct, Linklater once again succeeds in getting a group of largely unknowns to offer natural, funny and engaging performances. Thornton's also quite funny as Buttermaker, although his sudden turn for the nicer isn't particularly believable. Greg Kinnear is perfectly jerky as a rival coach, and Marcia Gay Harden is a little too convincing as a mother who turns to legality every time something doesn't go her way.
Linklater's remake has its moments and the performances are good. Writers Ficarra and Requa definitely try to keep things as edgy as they can and still keep things in PG-13 territory in this era, which means a few curse words occasionally make their way in, while others aren't to be found. The film's only real issue is that, while it didn't entirely seem pointless, the remake never entirely makes the case for itself it was needed, either. That, and the fact that Linklater could have done some serious trimming to the picture as it runs 113 minutes, but could have easily been taken down to 95-100 minutes.
Overall, this is a mildly entertaining feature that succeeds as well as it does thanks to fine performances, writing and direction. It's too long by a good chunk of time and rather forgettable, but enough of it works to make for a good rental.
VIDEO: "Bad News Bears" is presented by Paramount in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Paramount. Picture quality remained very fine throughout the show, as sharpness and detail were first-rate, with only a few soft moments on occasion.
The picture did show a couple of slight print flaws, a little bit of shimmer and a trace or two of edge enhancement, but none of the concerns were enough to be distracting. Colors remained bright and vivid, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: "Bad News Bears" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's audio is largely tame, with surrounds hardly becoming involved in the proceedings. Largely dialogue-driven, the audio quality is satisfactory, with clear dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: Director Richard Linklater and writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa provide audio commentary for the feature. The track is generally fun, as the three crack jokes about some of the events that occured on-set, chat about trying to do a remake, working with the actors and more. There are some slow moments and pauses of silence, but otherwise, this was a mostly enjoyable effort.
We also get 6 deleted scenes (with optional commentary), outtakes, "Writing the Bad News Bears" featurette, "At Bat With the Bears" featurette, "Spring Training" featurette, "Scouting For the Big League" featurette, trailer and "video baseball cards".
Final Thoughts: This remake of "Bad News Bears" doesn't convince that it was necessary, but it does have some entertaining moments and solid performances. Paramount's DVD offers fine audio/video quality and a good selection of supplements. Rent it.
The Film B-