Friday, July 28, 2006

Movie Review: "Bad News Bears"

Bad News for the Yankees
by Matt Sandler

Watching the level of play displayed in Bad News Bears (2005) is like playing in the Sunday softball game that I organize every weekend. You’re going to see a lot of errors, various levels of hustle, and some questionable offensive skills. But you’re also bound to have a lot of fun while enjoying the very lack of slickness. Bad News Bears is a very funny movie, aided immeasurably by the inimitable Billy Bob Thornton and a hilarious and offensive script by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Bad Santa).

The movie is a remake of The Bad News Bears (1976), and thus it continues in the tradition of current movies stubbornly avoiding the word “The” in the title (see The Poseidon Adventure vs. Poseidon). (The earlier movie was written by Bill Lancaster, who receives screenplay credit on this one despite passing away in 1997.) It tells the story of ex-major leaguer Morris Buttermaker (what a great movie character name), who has gone to seed as only a character played by Billy Bob Thornton can. Single mother Liz Whitewood (Marcia Gay Harden) recruits him to coach her son Toby’s (Ridge Canipe) Little League team of twelve-year-olds, the Bears, to lend some of his baseball experience. Later, we will learn that she also harbors an attraction for the sleazy scumbag type that he epitomizes.

Buttermaker’s major league career consisted of pitching 2/3 of an inning for the Mariners in the 1980s, and he now makes a living as an exterminator and lives in a trailer. He engages in all sorts of vices, and even has a local strip club sponsor the team. One of the running jokes in the movie is that several of the strippers from Bo-Peep’s Gentleman’s Club, the sponsor, are among the most vociferous fans at many of the Bears’ games. Buttermaker seems in a constant drunken stupor, but he still seems like deep down a good guy who has just made some questionable lifestyle choices.

When he starts coaching, the Bears are a hopeless lot. Another running joke is that one of the players, Hooper (Troy Gentile), is in a wheelchair. The rest of the players are a standard ragtag group of nerds, fat kids, short and scrawny kids, and boys that have no clue regarding the basic fundamentals of the game. One also has the hilarious name of Timothy Lupus (Tyler Patrick Jones). They are only able to start winning some games when two great players join the team. One is the local skateboard punk, Kelly Leak (Jeffrey Davies), who is asked to join the team after the classic movie moment of gunning in the ball from the parking lot. The other is Buttermaker’s daughter, Amanda Whurlitzer (Sammi Kane Kraft), who is estranged from her father, who left her mother three years earlier. At first, she has no interest—all she says she wants are “nice hips and C-cups”—but Buttermaker is persistent, because he knows his daughter has a great pitching arm. It is also his way of reaching out to his daughter to reestablish some contact.

After struggling at first, the team starts to get on a roll, and Coach takes them for celebratory post-game meals at Hooters. They are on a collision course with the Yankees, coached by Roy Bullock (Greg Kinnear), who never passes up an opportunity to advertise the great deals at the “Valley Chevy-Subaru” where he works. One of the great things about the movie is that there are no cartoonishly drawn heroes and villains. Some of the kids on the Yankees are obnoxious—they’re Yankees, what do you expect—but then again, so are some of the players on the Bears. Bullock definitely comes across as a phony that cares too much about how his team does. But there is one moment that highlights the unusual degree of complexity that this ultimately silly comedy brings to its characters. His son, Joey (Carter Jenkins), the Yankees’ pitcher, complains about arm soreness, but Roy convinces him to stay in. Then, after a debate about whether or not to intentionally walk a Bears batter, Joey seems to throw at him. Roy is furious for endangering the Bear’s safety, and in a scuffle with his son, Joey falls to the ground, and then leaves the game. There are all sorts of conflicting ideas we have about Roy at this moment—pity for taking his role of coach too seriously, anger at leaving his son in the game, and respect for his realization in the heat of battle that to throw at a twelve-year-old's head is dead wrong. These are more varied shadings than we expect in a mainstream Hollywood comedy.

The same goes for Buttermaker, as well. The fact that he is played by Thornton means he is much more easy to root for than this type of character played by another actor. He is proudly himself, and no civilizing influences—umpires, Liz, Amanda—will tame him. But he also eventually takes his coaching role too seriously, until he, too, is redeemed at the end of the movie.

I will let you see for yourself if the Bears win the big championship game against the Yankees. How do you know if this movie is right for you? Let me describe one scene. At the end of the movie, Buttermaker, in the aforementioned redemption, realizes that Hooper has not had any time in the field the whole season. The boy in the wheelchair miraculously catches a fly ball hit to right field, after which Liz sweetly shouts, “The little crippled boy did it!” and the strippers cheer heartily. If this description puts a smile on your face, Bad News Bears is right up your alley.

Matt Sandler's column, "The Critical Fan," appears alternate Fridays.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like it! Good job. Go on.

Sunday, August 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your website. It has a lot of great pictures and is very informative.

Friday, August 18, 2006  

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