2005’s ‘Bad News Bears’ is actually just as good as original

Sammi Kane Kraft (left), Billy Bob Thornton (center) and Timmy Deters star in 'Bad News Bears'
Sammi Kane Kraft (left), Billy Bob Thornton (center) and Timmy Deters star in ‘Bad News Bears’

Remakes. I want to bang my head against my desk every time I get word that another one is coming to theaters. Yet it is even more frustrating when they’re good. Ugh, that drives me nuts.

That’s what happened with 2005’s Bad News Bears. Dammit, it’s good. In fact, it’s quite good. Funny and charming, with a great performance by Billy Bob Thornton. Director Richard Linklater successfully captured the spirit and fun of the original, crafting what is not just a good remake, but quite simply a good film.

Damn him. Damn them all.

The story follows a collection of misfits who were originally cut from playing little league, but through a legal injunction filed by one of their parents, Liz Whitewood (Marcia Gay Harden), a team was formed just for them. To coach the Bears, Whitewood hires Morris Buttermaker (Thornton), a washed up former baseball player who drinks too much. The complete lack of talent is evident among the players, which includes an introverted young boy, a foul-mouthed kid who always looks for a fight, and a wheelchair bound outfielder. Buttermaker soon finds some hope in his step-daughter with a powerful pitching arm, and a troublemaking outsider with an equally powerful swing. Soon, a rivalry with another coach (Greg Kinnear) has Buttermaker struggling to turn his team into winners — no matter what it takes.

There are some differences between this film and the original, which was made in 1976 and starred the lovable Walter Matthau. For example, Marcia Gay Harden’s character was a man in the original. But the adjustments to the story were all quite logical in terms of how times have changed. This is very much a retelling of the same story, save for those adjustments, and that’s probably why it works so well.

I’m not sure anyone today could have pulled off the role of Buttermaker like Thornton. He’s likable despite the terrible things he may say or do. Harden chews up her character with great joy, relishing the comedic role with zest. But it is, of course, the young stars that really make the picture come to life. Timmy Deters is perfect as the trash-talking Tanner Boyle, as is Troy Gentile as Matt Hooper, the wheelchair bound player who was one of the few additions that was not in the original Bad News Bears.

It seems to me that the best remakes are from filmmakers who love and appreciate the original source. In this case, writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa discuss often in the commentary and behind-the-scenes documentaries how much they respected the 1976 Bad News Bears. This comes out in the story, that doesn’t discard all of the humor and affection that made the original a classic. This notion is also enhanced by the fact that they shared the screenplay credit with Bill Lancaster, writer of the original film, who died in 1997. Linklater followed up on this approach by keeping true to the original not only in the script, but in the look and feel of the movie.

The Bad News Bears Special Collector’s Edition DVD includes some nice features, including an audio commentary with Linklater, Ficarra and Requa; deleted scenes, bloopers and behind-the-scenes featurettes. The commentary is entertaining and informative, and the featurettes are brief and fluffy. The deleted scenes are actually interesting to watch, but the bloopers were a little disappointing. There are only three, even though you would think a baseball movie would have plenty. Plus, they include commentary tracks, which was a little odd. I don’t recall ever seeing that before, and I’m not certain just why they did that here. Linklater doesn’t really say much on any of them, nor do his comments really help make these bloopers any more funny.

Fans of the original Bad News Bears should not shy away from this remake. Instead, I would recommend they embrace it. It honors the original without discarding it. It’s more like watching the same play with a different cast.

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