Making the Grades
In 2003, he was Bad Santa. Now Billy Bob Thornton has stepped up to the plate to be bad again, as the infamous Coach Buttermaker in this remake of the Bad News Bears.
The film carries an interesting pedigree. Along with Thornton, it also uses two of Santa's screenwriters to pen the script. It is then put into the hands of director Richard Linklater, who made the admirable School of Rock (also from 2003). The final outcome is a movie with a young cast (similar to Rock), but with an overbearing irreverence that throws more fouls than may be expected by many parents familiar with the first Bears.
In a nearly photocopied concept of the '76 outing, Buttermaker (Thornton) is now a grizzled, middle-aged fumigator (he cleaned pools in his past movie) who hangs onto the fame of pitching in the major leagues. In reality, he threw for two-thirds of an inning over twenty years ago. However, his trumped up past is enough to have lawyer Liz Whitewood (Marcia Gay Harden)--who we are supposed to believe is an intelligent human being--pay him to coach a little league team that includes her son Toby (Ridge Canipe). The other eleven kids come with varying nationalities, abilities and disabilities, including Matthew (Troy Gentile), who is confined to a wheelchair.
While all the boys want to play, for the most part they are clueless about the game. Their new coach isn't much help. He really doesn't want to teach them--he's just there for some easy money. Boozing his way through the season, his exerts himself only when yelling obscenities and insults at the kids. However, like all good sports stories, in the dying moments of this movie we're expected to believe he's had a change of heart.
It's impossible to not draw comparisons between these Bears and the originals. The films are often shot-for-shot identical, with the biggest updates being a marked increase in profanities, sexual innuendo, and alcohol consumption. Although Walter Matthau's Buttermaker was also an unlikable tyrant, we saw his potential to warm up to the kids much earlier in that movie. By the time Thronton sees the light, its tough to believe he's capable of change.
Moreover, the writers have taken the reasonably good original script (which was considered edgy for its day) and added four letter words to nearly every sentence. Both adults and kids deliver dozens of profanities in what is often a tasteless attempt to shock the audience.
Perhaps they were hoping to recreate the surprise hit Bad Santa became. If so, they've failed to recognize it wasn't the swearing that held the audience's attention but Thornton's intensely dislikable, yet darkly interesting, character that left viewers curious enough to wade through the objectionable garbage. In this case, we know how the story ends before it begins. And considering the promotions tied to this production, parents will likely be expecting something much more "kid friendly."
Other sexual jokes about body anatomy and even incest (Buttermaker consoles his team with lines like, "I know a tie is a lot like kissing your sister") permeate this film. A sexual relationship between two unmarried characters is heavily implied. Smoking and drinking--which were throughout the older version as well--are also frequent (although in this updated version the coach celebrates by offering low alcohol beer to the kids). Finally, many scenes depict dangerous behavior for children, like a water fight where insecticide is used as ammunition.
Taking the boys to Hooters for lunch and bringing the waitresses back to be cheerleaders, it's obvious this Buttermaker has less respect for kids than even the 1976 character. Along with weaker performances when compared to those of Matthau and Tatum O'Neil (who played a pitcher), it's tough to accept this new movie's tagline of, "It's good to be bad."
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Bad News Bears.
How do the dreams and goals of the adults get confused with what’s really important in playing the game? How can organized sports be used to promote positive traits and behaviors?