Going to the theater this summer has been like stepping into a time machine and finding that your fondest childhood memories have been retooled by cynics and sadists. Bewitched, Herbie: Fully Loaded, last week’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and now Bad News Bears are meant to be gobbled like comfort food by wistful thirtysomethings weaned on the originals, but these dishes have been poisoned by their respective studios and filmmakers, and we’re left gagging down the aisles. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Bad News Bears are especially distasteful, replacing their iconic leads (Gene Wilder and Walter Matthau, respectively) with ickier, surlier variations who merely distract and disappoint. Billy Bob Thornton is such a lecherous bum, he’d creep out Matthau’s Morris Buttermaker, who would never be caught dead ogling the girls softball team.
What seemed like such a good idea on paper — pairing the writers and star of the merrily obscene Bad Santa with the director of the underdog kiddie hit School of Rock for a redo of the 1976 film The Bad News Bears — is instead the cinematic equivalent of a slack, lazy, incompetent cover tune performed by tone-deaf amateurs. You will still recognize a little of what remains — the screenplay is credited to Glenn Ficarra, John Requa and original writer Bill Lancaster — but the plastic surgeons have botched the job, rendering Bad News Bears hideously deformed. Those who have any memory of or affection for Michael Ritchie’s original will watch Richard Linklater’s redo with eyes wide in appalled amazement. Latecomers will wonder what the fuss was all about; why, after all, would anyone want to remake this crap?
Everything about this is wrong: the casting (Thornton’s just playing a bad Santa, this time without the suit), the editing (apparently there wasn’t any, given its stultifying two-hour length), the writing (which consists of little more than the copious use of the word shit), the cinematography (the movie looks like it was made in 1976) and the direction (a few colleagues were taking bets after the movie about how often Linklater actually visited the set). Ritchie, maker of The Candidate and Downhill Racer, sneakily dealt with how parents take Little League more seriously than their kids do. Linklater aims low and shoots lower. His version is crude for crude’s sake.
Linklater, Ficarra and Requa have no interest in what makes the kids tick and focus instead on the adults, including Greg Kinnear as the mean-spirited, overly competitive coach who loathes Buttermaker and his meager team. They insert pointless diversions, including a relationship between Marcia Gay Harden (as the lawyer who sues to get the Bears into the league) and Thornton that goes nowhere. The kids have been reduced to little more than props.
It’s like watching someone beat the hell out of your favorite toy till it’s nothing more than dust, and then they spit and shit on it to prove their point. Linklater, whose intimate Before Sunrise was an art-house wonder last year, proved he could make mainstream money with School of Rock. With Bad News Bears, he proves he can waste it, too.