When a movie this awful tosses the adjective "bad" into its title, we call it truth in advertising. Look beyond the easy-target moniker and you'll find even more bad news: Richard Linklater's remake of Michael Ritchie's misfits-on-the-mound classic is a major league disappointment, a mean-spirited, insensitive, and racist misfire that should have Walter Matthau and original Bad News Bears screenwriter Bill Lancaster spinning in their graves.
Linklater scored critical praise for his similarly paced School of Rock, and makes only slight alterations to the slacker-mentors-kids formula in hopes of duplicating his success. His cringeworthy Bears places former major league pitcher Morris Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thornton) in charge of a scornful army of selfish brats, then marches them through conventional hurdles on the way to a preposterous championship game.
The dugout is filled with thin caricatures of troubled youth - the overweight boy carrying a Ziploc bag full of bacon, the stat-happy Indian kid who joins the team to bolster his college resume, and the sarcastic hothead whose potty mouth would make a drunken pirate blush. They're all detestable, and you're never compelled to root for them. Actually, I did like one kid - the subdued "K.C." Harris sweetly personifies Ahmad Abdul Rahim, who declares his adoration for St. Louis slugger Mark McGuire so bigoted Buttermaker can spit, "But he's a white!" Bears eventually spoils the boy's kindness by having him throw a punch at an opponent in the finals game.
Because this remake has no moral compass, they've even included a crippled kid for laughs. In one scene, he wears a patch and tells Buttermaker he might have cancer of the eye. The joke bombs (one thud of many), and the boy is never seen wearing the patch again. It's the clunkiest cut-and-run I've seen in a while.
Where the original Bears poked fun at America's pastime, Linklater's vulgar update gleefully kicks the sport where it counts. Crude humor often receives a pass when it's funny - see There's Something about Mary for a prime example - and Bears would be less loathsome if it could muster a giggle-worthy gag. But scenes don't end on scripted punchlines; they just drop off into the ether.
Thornton, to his credit, tries to shoulder the load, but Linklater cruelly pairs him a dull daughter (Sammi Kraft, hired for her athletic abilities), unqualified child actors, and bland counterparts. Greg Kinnear coasts by as a competitive coach, while Marcia Gay Harden trudges through a thankless role as an overprotective parent who ends up in bed with Buttermaker. Their pairing makes about as much sense as anything else in this disjointed flop.
Parents, be warned. Despite the young cast and little league setting, this is not a movie for children of any age. As for the adults who are intrigued by the idea of watching a disgruntled Thornton verbally assaulting his pint-sized co-stars, you're better served renting another Bad movie - the tasteless but hilarious Bad Santa.
We read the news today, oh boy.