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Bad News Bears

(2005) ** 1/2 Pg-13
111 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Richard Linklater. Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear, Marcia Gay Harden, Timmy Deters, Seth Adkins.

I've often pondered whether Richard Linklater is capable of making a bad movie. Pretty much everything Linklater has put out since 1991's Slacker has been meritorious, but the director's remake of the 1976 comedy Bad News Bears proves to be his least inspired film. Bad News Bears ain't broke and Linklater and company don't much try to fix it, but slim characterization and an overfamiliar premise (see everything from The Mighty Ducks to this summer's Rebound and Kicking and Screaming) relegate 2005's Bad News Bears to lazy, hazy, summer-daze mediocrity.

Bad Santa screenwriters Glenn Ficarra & John Requa once more pen drawling invective for Billy Bob Thornton, who plays former big-leaguer Morris Buttermaker. Now an alcoholic exterminator specializing in rodents, Buttermaker agrees to coach a little league team for some extra drinking money. Of course, the kids on the team are a motley crew of nerds, spazzes, and profane, aggro spitfires. Further complicating matters, one player's in a motorized wheelchair, and the team's racial diversity presses Buttermaker's blithely racist buttons ("It's the damn League of Nations!").

Linklater should've hired Don Rickles to write the script, which consists largely of jerky insults between Buttermaker and the kids (he calls them "the bronze medalists from the Special Olympics"; a kid tells him, "Shut the hell up, drunk bastard!"). As in Bad Santa, profanity does not a creatively satisfying comedy make, but the rest of the film is a boilerplate kid's sports movie with a side of raunch dressing. Ficarra & Requa grudgingly allow Buttermaker a couple of lessons ("Once you start quitting, it's a hard thing to stop"), but don't expect Bad News Bears to model good sportsmanship.

Aside from the mostly zing-less naughtiness, Coach Linklater does offer a few diversions. Ed Shearmur's sly score enhances the humor by quoting Bizet's Carmen as a counterpoint to nasty and inept child's play, and Linklater caps the film with a rebel-yelled cover of "Bad Reputation." Thornton's low-key dejection remains amusing, and Marcia Gay Harden (as a baseball mom) and Greg Kinnear (as a rival coach) make funny foils, in fits and starts. But the kids are all stereotype and no personality, which is a serious problem for a movie that's ostensibly about kids. They say that any press is good press, but this "Bad News" isn't exactly good news.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0

Street date: 12/13/2005

Distributor: Paramount Home Video

Paramount gives Bad News Bears the full "Special Collector's Edition" treatment, one that proves the point that some films just seem more "at home" on video. (Be sure to get the widescreen edition—a bright and sharp transfer with only a bit of stray dirt—and not the fullscreen edition.) At home, it's easier to see the film's borderline mediocrity as humble charm, and perhaps the naughtiness seems just a bit more naughty, as well.

The special-edition contextualizing also makes Linklater's film harder to resist. In a cheery commentary, Linklater and screenwriters Ficarra & Requa note Thornton's ad-libs, recall rejected names for the gentleman's club sponsor, and generally crack wise; they also explain the notion behind remaking the film and the trickiness of walking the line with raunchy jokes.

Four featurettes add up to well over half an hour of documentary footage and relaxed interviews. "At Bat with the Bears" (11:32) takes a broad tack, and includes interviews with Linklater, his producers, and the stars. "Writing The Bad News Bears" (9:39) focuses on Ficarra & Requa and comparisons between the 1976 film and the remake. "Scouting for the Big Leagues: Casting Bad News Bears" (10:18) reveals screen tests and delves into the casting rationales, and "Spring Training" takes a closer look at the preparation for, and production of, baseball footage.

The disc also includes six amusing "Deleted Scenes" totalling nearly nine minutes; each has director-writers commentary. A minute-and-a-half of "Outtakes" also include commentary. There's a nifty set of "Video Baseball Card," on which cast members introduce themselves (then the card flips over and you can read each actor's stats and bio).

Lastly, there are trailers, for Bad News Bears (1:38), Barnyard, Elizabethtown, The Honeymooners, Airplane: Don't Call Me Shirley Edition, and Beavis and Butthead: The Mike Judge Collection. Fans of the film can happily step up to the plate (for a purchase); others can take a seat in the stands (for a satisfying rental).
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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