Over the past three decades, mainstream cinema has become bawdier and more violent--and more PC. That much is clear in Richard Linklater's remake of 1976's Bad News Bears. The original's most memorable line (towheaded Tanner assessing his teammates with a string of racial and ethnic epithets) is missing, which is sort of like remaking Gone with the Wind without "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
That's not to say the film has been completely sanitized. It's almost as if Linklater, realizing he can't have 11-year-olds rant like John Rocker, compensates by amping up his star's libido. As Morris Buttermaker, the Bears' hard-drinking coach, Billy Bob Thornton is more lecherous than Walter Matthau; he ogles softball players and beds one Bear's mother. Matthau's Bears were sponsored by Chico's Bail Bonds; Thornton's are sponsored by a strip club and their postgame meals are taken at Hooters.
The gratuitous addition of the scantily clad strippers who form the Bears' cheering section notwithstanding, most of the tweaks Linklater--and screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa--made to the original are purposeful and clever. He adds depth to the relationship between Buttermaker and Amanda Whurlitzer (Sammi Kane Kraft), the flamethrower in search of a father figure. He reimagines the coach of the rival Yankees as a smarmy car salesman, allowing Greg Kinnear to grab laughs in what was a very dark role in the original. And he gets a fine performance from Thornton, who channels his role as a lewd Kris Kringle in 2003's Bad Santa. Otherwise, Linklater largely leaves a classic (SI ranked it the 26th best sports movie) alone, right down to the music (Bizet's Carmen) that accompanies the game sequences.
With Bears, Linklater--whose underrated The School of Rock also featured a rough-around-the-edges guy leading a ragtag group of kids--has shown he can take a great movie and redo it as a very good one. Perhaps he should now turn his attention to The Bad News Bears Go to Japan. If he can turn that abysmal sequel into something, he deserves an Oscar. --M.B.
PARAMOUNT PICTURES/ZUMA PRESS INC. (BAD NEWS BEARS)
Thornton (right, with Jeffrey Davies) gives extra edge to the Matthau character.