Release Date:  July 22, 2005
Rating:  PG-13 (rude behavior, language throughout, some sexuality & thematic elements)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time:  111 min
Director:  Richard Linklater
Actors:  Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear, Marcia Gay Harden, Sammi Kane Kraft, Jeffrey Davies, Timmy Deters, Ridge Canipe, Tyler Patrick Jones, Aman Johal, Troy Gentile, Jeffrey Tedmori, Kenneth K.C. Harris

In the mid-1970s “The Bad News Bears” didn’t just launch a franchise; it crossed content barriers deemed taboo for a family film.  Like its predecessor, the new “Bad News Bears” crosses those lines with great frequency.  Unfortunately, the lines today start at a much lower level than they did 30 years ago.  As a result, this remake goes farther than most Christian parents are willing to go – and that’s just for themselves, let alone their kids.

Ex major-leaguer Morris Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thornton) is an easy-going drunk.  His self-centered life gets a bit complicated when he’s hired to coach a little league baseball squad composed of other teams’ rejects.  Their best players are bad while their worst range from the completely awkward to a wheelchair-bound paraplegic.  Buttermaker does as little as possible to earn the extra dough, but once the coach (Greg Kinnear) of the league’s best team makes snide remarks about Buttermaker’s Bears, Morris becomes determined to turn his losers into winners.

Buttermaker’s change of passion, however, does not change his basic conduct.  He drinks, smokes and swears around (and at) the kids constantly.  The team’s uniform sponsor is a local strip club whose logo is emblazoned across the jerseys’ backs.  Buttermaker also uses the kids at his pest-extermination jobs, has one mix him drinks, and even teaches another to lie to his dad.  He is the anti-role model.  To his credit, he begins to care about the kids and, in doing so, becomes the first adult to believe in them.  This makes a positive impact but, given his brazen immorality, Buttermaker leaves many more negative ones.

From the film’s perspective, though, the positive impact is the only thing that matters.  All of the negatives are not only taken lightly, they’re the basis for the film’s comedy.  Adult drinks and swears around kids – ha ha!  Kids swear back – ha ha ha!  Further “comedy” is mined in a variety of ways: one kid teaches another how to “flip the bird”, others make mild sexual references, one sees Buttermaker walk out of his mother’s bedroom, the kids eat at Hooters, and they even drink non-alcoholic beer (provided by the coach).

Now one doesn’t have to be overly sophisticated to realize that many kids actually talk this way (or would if given the chance) when not around adults – no shocker there.  But depicting reality devoid of a proper standard is where most films fail and “Bad News Bears” is no exception.  Context is fundamental yet here the crass conduct is passively permitted at best and actually encouraged at worst.

Beyond the moral offenses, the story itself is pretty bland.  Those familiar with the original will see many scenes redone with little-to-no variation.  Those new to the premise will see a one-joke movie shift quickly into repetitive autopilot.  Yes, there are contemporary tweaks; the opposing coach’s role is expanded, Buttermaker actually does some coaching rather than simply relying on his two ringers, and the wheelchair-bound player is a funny twist.  Still, “Bad News Bears” isn’t an imaginative remake; instead, it’s as lazy a carbon-copy as we’ve seen since Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot “Psycho” debacle.  Even if the content doesn’t offend you the lack of inspiration will.

That banality is of particular disappointment given the director – Richard Linklater.  His “School of Rock” was not only hilarious but also really touching, even tear-jerking.  Despite thoughtful attempts, though, Linklater never successfully pulls the heartstrings here.  A few subplots – Buttermaker connects with an Armenian kid, he’s a father-figure to the team’s lone girl, and the team gives him a new appreciation for what’s truly important – show potential, but none fully register.  Mercifully the film’s never sappy either, but for the most part “Bad News Bears” is just emotionally flat.

All the pieces are definitely in place; Billy Bob Thornton is perfectly cast, Greg Kinnear makes the most of his self-righteous little league “Godfather”, and the no-name slate of kids is fairly talented.  But when the profanity-count of this PG-13 “family film”-wannabe actually ranks near the top of all movies released this year – including the R-rated ones – you know something is horribly wrong.

AUDIENCE:  Mature teens and adults

OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Buttermaker drinks beer and liquor in front of kids.  He passes out drunk during a practice.  A kid mixes a drink for him.  He smokes.  Buttermaker serves kids non-alcoholic beers.

  • Language/Profanity:  Profanities throughout.  Sexual slang for male genitals, female breasts, and homosexuals.  Lord’s name taken in vain (GD’s, the name of Jesus).  No “F” words, but most everything else is said, and often.  Middle fingers are flipped.  Two mild ethnic slurs.  Language common with both adults and kids.

  • Sex/Nudity:  Reference to “paid sex”.  Buttermaker flirts with a player’s mom; has sex with mom (not seen, but son sees him exit the mother’s bedroom).  Team eats at Hooters.  Strip club sponsors uniforms and strippers (scantily clad) attend games.  Boy and girl kiss.  Discussion of girl’s period and other puberty references.

  • Violence:  Kids get into intense scuffles, hitting and punching.  A kid steals the coach’s wallet.  The coach encourages a kid to lie.