In 10 Words or Less
A s#!+load of movie baseball fun
Loves: The original The Bad News Bears
Likes: Billy Bob Thornton's comedies, Richard Linklater
Dislikes: Soccer moms, Little League dads
Hates: Pointless remakes
Hollywood has always been morally bankrupt, but its pretty certain that the center of American filmmaking has hit new lows as it closes in on creative bankruptcy. Exhibit one would be the overwhelming number of remakes greenlighted, often without care for the original material, and often way too soon. But in tackling this second-helping of baseball comedy, the writers had an excuse, as the man behind the original, Bill Lancaster, had a remake of his own with The Thing.
Even without that, the writers didn't have much to be concerned about, as they treated the original concept with respect, updating the idea instead of changing it. Adding characters who represent the changes that have occurred in society over the years, and adjusting the remaining core to keep pace, the film took what is now a film archetype and made it relevant to a new generation, while not stomping entirely on the memories of an older audience.
What they didn't do is soften the film, resisting temptation to make a Disney movie out of this rag-tag group of anti-social ballplayers. It all starts with Billy Bob Thornton, who, taking the mantle of Morris Buttermaker from Walter Matthau, made the character a bit slimier and a lot more fun than his grumpier predecessor. There's something much more believable about Thornton's world-weary ex-pro, and yet he's actually meaner to the kids. One scene of "batting practice" is hilarious because of it.
Of course, if the kids didn't work, Thornton would have been adrift on his own. They may not be as free-spirited as the first group of Bears, but they are entertaining and full of attitude. Be it Engleberg, the Atkins-friendly catcher, Prem, the Indian benchwarmer taking over Rudi Stein's nerd role, or the truly bizarre Timmy Lupus, who can't buy a friend or a break, this cast holds up their end of the bargain. As a bonus, there's a new kid on the block who not only takes the team concept of outcast to a new level, but also provides plenty of uncomfortable laughs.
Following his strong work on School of Rock, Richard Linklater once again has created a movie about kids that's not a kids movie, and therefore a film kids and adults can both enjoy. A large part of that is his unwillingness to make studio films, despite working with studio money and studio stars. Instead, he creates real movies about unreal situations, putting the skill he showed in earlier independent hits like Slacker to mainstream use. As long as he maintains such an ethic, no one can ever call him a sell-out.
No matter what you think of this movie, praise has to be given to the casting director, who somehow found some cells from Chris Barnes to create Timmy Deters, a perfect clone of smart-mouthed Tanner Boyle. Watching this kid rip into teammates and opponents alike is like being stuck in a timewarp. The only thing missing are the more un-PC insults that the writers felt didn't work the same way they once did. Even without them, this kid is a hoot.
A one-disc release, Bad News Bears slides into home in an insert-less standard keepcase. Like the team, the disc design is no-frills, starting with a static anamorphic widescreen main menu that offers a choice of playing the film, selecting scenes, viewing special features and adjusting the set-up. The menu also has a 5.1 music mix, which is a nice touch. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, and a French 5.1 track, while subtitles are available in English and Spanish, along with closed captioning. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each chapter.
Delivered in anamorphic widescreen, this movie looks very nice, with solid color in mostly outdoor, sunshine-filled scenes. The level of detail is good, without any dirt or damage, and there are no obvious digital artifacts. The only real negative is the very small amount of digital effects, which look awful and overly noticeable.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, creating an enjoyable listening experience that is true to the action on-screen. The dialogue and music are strong and clear, without any distortion or distracting conflicts. Use of the surrounds isn't excessive, limited mainly to some music enhancement and sound effects, but it is effective. As a down-to-earth comedy, the sound design fits nicely.
The biggest and best extra on this DVD is the feature-length audio commentary by Linklater and writers Glenn Ficarra & John Requa. The trio are self-deprecating, reflecting on their status as hacks for remaking a classic, and informative in the way they explain the choices they made in adapting and updating the story. It's a strong track thanks to the relaxed manner of the participants and the quality content they provide.
Four featurettes, totaling over 35 minutes, cover the production of the films, with "At Bat with the Bears" (the making-of), "Writing the Bad News Bears" (duh), "Scouting for the Big Leagues" (casting) and "Spring Training" (all about the film's baseball action.) Featuring a good amount of comparative footage from the original film, the segments show how the movie came together, with the movie's history well in mind.
Footage that didn't make the movie is up next, beginning with six deleted scenes. The nine minutes wouldn't have been out of place in the final film, but as the accompanying commentary by Linklater and the writers explains, time was tight in the final cut. Only a minute and a half of cute outtakes made the disc, also with optional commentary, but it doesn't quite beg for more time.
The extras wrap up with 13 "video baseball cards," which are video introductions of Thornton and his players, followed by info about the actors; and a few trailers, including one for the Bears' flick.
The Bottom Line
As a dedicated fan of the original film, mainly due to the no-holds-barred take on childhood, I was not happy when this remake was announced, especially since it came at the same time as the re-imagining of Willy Wonka. But just as that film worked, so does this updating, thanks mainly to Thornton's perfect performance in the lead and the crew's ability to be true to the source material. The DVD does a nice job bringing the film home, with good picture and sound, though the extras follow studio formula, saved only by the participation of Linklater and the writers. If you're a fan of the first movie, check this one out without fear, but if you're new to the franchise, start with the original.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.