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Paramount Studios presents
"Baseball's hard, guys. It really is. You can love it, but believe me, it doesn't always love you back. It's like dating a German chick."
DVD ReviewWell, if there have to be remakes, they should all be as much fun as this one. If the original Bad News Bears was a staple of your childhood (and it was of mine), this new incarnation is a great way to recapture the first movie's anarchic spirit, and does a great job ripping away the retroactive sweetness that I've seen lots of people ascribe to their earliest years. And even if you've just seen the first in passing, or not at all, there's some very funny stuff in here, that gets at the truth of how kids behave—full of piss and vinegar, cursing like truck drivers, and ready to throw down. Bring it.
The Bears of the title are a sorry afterthought of a Little League baseball team in the San Fernando Valley—only a litigious mother and a bribed coach make it possible for this apparently talentless roster even to compete. Our hero of sorts is Buttermaker, who had a cup of coffee with the Mariners back in the day, and now pays the bills by working as an exterminator, sort of a Pied Piper for the rats of the valley. Since the check clears, he agrees to take on coaching duties for a seemingly hapless group of kids—together, inevitably, they band together and take their league by storm.
Director Richard Linklater has just the right laid-back sensibility for this material—he's clearly a sports fan, and knows how to play the quiet moments for deadpan comedy. And as Buttermaker, Billy Bob Thornton is a pistol. It's sort of thankless, playing a role made famous by Walter Matthau, one of the great screen comedians—but Thornton makes it his own, because his Buttermaker is more of a rascal than was Matthau's, and Thornton has the sly bad boy thing down. His Buttermaker has a real kinship with Garrett Breedlove, the Nicholson character in Terms of Endearment, a couple of guys who are dining out and making time with women on their stories from their moments in the sun, all those years ago. Greg Kinnear, as a tightass father also coaching in the league, makes for a great foil; and Marcia Gay Harden, mother of one of the Bears and the one who recruits Buttermaker for the job, seems to be having a fine time as the uptight woman attracted to the very wrong kind of man.
The story hasn't changed much, and the movie is respectful in evoking the original—of course, there's plenty of Bizet in the score, and the filmmakers are looking to top the gags of the first only from time to time, usually with a knowing wink. (The Bears' sponsor, for instance, is no longer Chico's Bail Bonds; now the boys' uniforms are festooned with the logo of Bo-Peep's Gentleman's Club.) It's a riot to see Bears' victory celebrations at the local Hooters, and you can sense the first pulses of puberty in some of the boys when they get a look at their cheering section, all close personal (and scantily clad) friends of their coach. There's less emphasis here, it seems, on the relationship between Buttermaker and Amanda, his star pitcher and the daughter of an old girlfriend of his; perhaps that's because the young actress in the role, Sammi Kane Kraft, is fine in the role, but doesn't have the stature that Tatum O'Neal did at the time. The group of kids assembled do well enough, though thankfully there isn't a breakout, diva-style Dakota Fanning performance among the group—these little kids are pissed off a lot of the time, a welcome antidote to some of the syrupy stuff that passes for children's entertainment these days, things that bear no resemblance to reality. The film at times feels almost casually tossed off, and that's all to the good, making it an ambling and very funny pleasure.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The movie looks good enough—it's all sun dappled and beer drenched, with that hazy feeling you get in the last couple of innings after a couple too many.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Reasonably clear transfer, though occasionally the well-chosen music subsumes some of the dialogue.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Barnyard, Elizabethtown, The Honeymooners, Airplane: "Don't Call Me Shirley" Edition, Beavis and Butthead: Mike Judge Collection
6 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Richard Linklater, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
At Bat With the Bears (11m:32s) is standard making-of fare, with Linklater, Thornton, Harden, Kinnear, and some of the kids. Ficarra and Requa are center stage talking about Writing the Bad News Bears (09m:39s), detailing what it is they brought to the party. Scouting for the Big Leagues (10m:18s) is about casting the kids, and includes lots of audition footage; Spring Training (04m:39s) focuses on the film's technical advisors, trying to make the cast look like respectable ballplayers. Finally, there are video baseball cards for a dozen of the Bears and their coach—click on them, and they'll introduce themselves; then the cards flip around to give a few crucial stats on the back.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsI can't ever remember laughing this much at a movie targeted more to my son than to me—he loved it, too, though, and since we've already got cable, there's not much I can do about the cascade of profanities coming from the mouths of these Bears. So if that's a stumbling block for you, you have been warned; for the rest of us, this is a wickedly funny family picture.
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