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It's just bad news



Published: Fri, July 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The 'Bad News Bears' ruins just about everything from the original movie.

By ROGER MOORE

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

The remake of "Bad News Bears" is a comic cultural history lesson. How far we have come in 29 short years.

It's a coarser culture. One kid was famous for swearing in the original. In the remake, most of the kids can cuss.

"Little League Dads" were an exception back then. They're the norm now, so much so that Greg Kinnear can play one without any child-abusing edge and we still recognize the "type."

There was no Hooters back then, children didn't know the lyrics to J.J. Cale's "Cocaine" and you didn't make fun of boys in wheelchairs.

And there were no cell phones back in 1976. It would have been a lot tougher for Billy Bob Thornton to phone in his lackluster performance, back in the day.

The new "Bears" has a rougher rating. The baseball is better, thanks to young stars Sammi Kraft and Jeff Davies, both of whom are better players than actors.

However, it isn't funny, it isn't sweet and it has none of the innocence of the original.

Then and now

Same story -- kids not good enough to play for anybody else are led by a drunken loser of a coach who had a moment, and only a moment, in the big leagues.

Different job for "Boilermaker" Buttermaker -- a pool cleaner then, an exterminator now.

Same music, mostly -- Bizet's "Carmen," with an emphasis on "March of the Toreadors."

Different sponsor for the team -- Chico's Bail Bonds then, something more colorful now.

Same number of Oscar winners, two -- Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal then, Billy Bob and Marcia Gay Harden now. Same ending.

But, boy, something major was lost in the translation. It's as if Slacker icon Richard Linklater, guilty over the success of "School of Rock," set out to botch a can't-miss package.

Ho-hum spectacle

Jokes flail and fail. Billy Bob even repeats a riff. "You guys swing like Helen Keller at a pi & ntilde;ata party."

And when things turn desperate, which is pretty much right after the opening credits, they go for the stand-up comic's last resort: the penis joke, the toilet joke and every variation therein.

Thornton seems to have tired of the "Bad Santa" thing that he was hired to do sometime before shooting started. He's a well-groomed lady-killer of a loser, no longer a guy who finds redemption in Little League. This Buttermaker doesn't hate kids. He starts to care way too soon. So the character has no arc. That's a huge hole in the story.

The "big game" formula, in which lovable losers transform into unlikely winners, was perfected by the original film. It still works here, though Kinnear's Yankee coach (HATE the Yankees) has none of the menace that Vic Morrow brought to the part.

And the kids -- the portly Engelberg (Brandon Craggs), the diminutive fighter Tanner (Timmy Deters) and the wheelchair-bound-and-milking-it Hooper (Troy Gentile) have little of the charm of that original cast.

However, quality issues aside, the kids are going to want to go to this. Let them. Where else are they going to learn how to curse, flip the bird, lie, cheat, drink, mix martinis, ogle Hooters tarts and be bad sports? Or are they picking that up at home?




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