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This week:
Bad News Bears

Filthy says:
"If you have a VCR, you can do better."

First, let me say I'm not a nostalgic guy and I don't look at my own childhood through fucked up lenses that make everything I saw or owned look better than what kids have today. Okay, we had Wacky Packs and kids today don't. Other than that, though, I think nostalgia is for cowards and simpletons. I don't have a problem with people remaking what we had as kids, as long as they do it well and have a good reason for doing it.

Bad News Bears doesn't. It's a remake of the 1976 flick The Bad News Bears, a movie my parents wouldn't let me go to because it was rated PG. I'm not telling you that because I'm bitter. Far from it. Shit, in retrospect, I'm really glad they wouldn't let me see it with my friends because it gave me extra time to ride around on my sister's hand-me-down pink Schwinn Li'l Chic and get called a homo. Who knows, if I had seen that movie, maybe I wouldn't have gotten beaten up so much, punched in the nuts by girls, wet myself during my fourth-grade speech about Jimmy Carter, or discovered alcohol's magical talents. Maybe instead of the super awesome life I have getting loaded with my bitey dog in a basement apartment I'd be a miserable rich phony in a big house surrounded by a bunch of fake friends who return his calls and like doing stuff with him, and who isn't banned from the library for throwing up in the children's board book bin. Thanks, Mom and Dad. Seriously. Without you, nobody would be reading this. Of course, I wouldn't need validation from strangers, but that's beside the point.

The makers of the 2005 Bad News Bears stripped the "The" off the original's title. Maybe to make it more streamlined, aerodynamic, built for speed. Maybe to make is sexier, like the skimpy little size 18 black cocktail dress the Mrs. hangs on the closet to entice her to shed a few pounds against my wishes. Or maybe it's because those jackasses in Hollywood have too much fucking time on their hands and too little imagination. I mean, what the hell? How many marketing man-hours did it take to make that call? Who even bothered to think about it? Maybe it was Richard Linklater's pitch for the movie.

Linklater: "You know, the original was pretty good, but what if--and I'm thinking outside the box here--what if we dropped the The?"

Studio Chief: "Barbara! Bring me my giant checkbook, and hurry!"

I think that's how it went because Linklater apparently didn't bring any other ideas to the table. All Bad News Bears does is rough up the story of the original without adding any grace or charm. In the most critical places, it rips scenes verbatim from the original, and in other places it apes them with added vulgarity and subtracted meaning. This is crap.

Billy Bob Thornton is Morris Buttermaker, a former pitcher turned burn-out alcoholic exterminator asked to manage a rag-tag team of kids so bad at baseball their parents had to sue a Little League just to allow them to play. As in the original, there is the shy, awkward kid Lupus, the fat kid, the kid too cool for school and the girl pitcher with the bum arm. Just in case we're too fucking stupid to know these guys are underdogs, Linklater tacks on a kid in a wheelchair and makes the nerd a bigger and lamer stereotype than Steve Urkel. Fuck, I wish he were Urkel. That dude had nuance.

Just like in the original, this team of losers band together to go from worst to the championship game, against a team led by an overly-competitive father (Greg Kinnear) who represents everything bad about youth athletics. Kinnear's character is such an asshole that his behavior causes Thornton to reconsider his own. The result is that the Bears don't win the championship, but have more fun losing than the champs do winning.

It's one of the great tragic stories, really. Right up there with Beowulf and Richie Rich. The original movie was made for kids and empowered them. Not me, because--as I already said--my parents wouldn't let me go see it. Thank you again, Mom and Dad. Anyway, it was a foul-mouthed fuck you from kids to the parents that had forgotten who youth sports were really for. I can only imagine kids watching in 1976 saw an expression of something they felt but had no idea how to say. That is, chill out, Mom, it's just a damn game.

Bad News Bears doesn't empower anyone. Instead, this version is all about Thornton as Buttermaker, a cool cat who does naughty things. Where the first one showed kids talking the way kids talk when the parents aren't around, this one is about Thornton acting like the coolest middle-aged alcoholic in the world. Strippers love him, soccer moms fuck him and he skates through life.

That's a load of crap. When you're in your 20s and drunk, you still have a chance of being cool. Chicks might dig your devil-may-care attitude or the charm that gets you by when you're young. But by the time you're in your 40s, being nothing more than a drunk means you fucked up. The only middle-aged drunks that get as much tail as Thornton does in Bad News Bears are either rich or Kennedys. Otherwise, still getting blitzed, being poor and hanging around Hooters is as good as a neon sign blinking "Loser". Which you are. Think about it: who was the last cool, poor 45-year-old drunk you met? Don't say Tom Waits because he's bathing in dough.

My point is that Linklater and the writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa think that Thornton's Buttermaker is too cool for their own good. Thornton wears his alcoholism like a nice pair of cufflinks. It's a fashion detail that enhances his look without ever stopping him from being crassly witty, on time or charming. He doesn't have anyplace to go as a character if we're already supposed to be enthralled by him. Sure he's a drunk, sure he's poor, and sure he's a selfish bastard. According to the movie, though, that's his appeal.

Meanwhile, the kids get the shaft. They are poorly drawn, reduced to walking punchlines. The fat kid is on Atkins, the handicapped kid is politically incorrect, and the girl is too obsessed with sex issues. None of this builds to a payoff or out of concern for them. It's there because it gives the writers chances to say shock us. Lazily shock us.

The original The Bad News Bears was the way kids really talk when parents aren't around, using dirty words to see how they felt. It didn't show some adult's idealized version of them, and the vulgarity wasn't gratuitous. In fact, it was genuinely sweet. The new Bad News Bears is vulgar and crass, sour like a newly widowed old man. The kids sound like what comes out of the minds of mediocre screenwriters. And the nerd kid uses a laptop to calculate team success not because real kids do, but because it's a convenient way to remind us he's a nerd. Hell, the movie doesn't even seem to like kids. It likes Thornton, and only Thornton. The moral victory at the end--which one character has to actually explain is a "moral victory"--isn't for them. And it isn't for Thornton either. It's just a way to wrap up a string of bad jokes.

One example of how this movie is crass in the wrong ways is the ending. In the original, the Bears celebrate losing the championship with a shower of Buttermaker's beer. In the new one, the kids celebrate with beer, but it's very clearly pointed out that it's non-alcoholic. Somehow, in the easy-joke logic of Bad News Bears, the priorities are that it's okay to show kids spraying themselves with rat poison, but not with beer. You want to be crass, but you don't want to piss off any potential advertisers. Another example is a scene where Thornton hires a dwarf to pretend to be a kid on the team. It's a cheap, easy joke that totally fucks the story by being so outlandish it indicates that the story means less than the jokes to Linklater. Which is too bad because the jokes aren't very good.

Being a baseball fan, I was also pissed off by a small but telling detail of the movie. A kid refers to Thornton's brief major league career as being only two-thirds of an inning with an ERA of 36. In fact, you can't have an ERA of 36 in two-thirds of an inning. It can be 27 (two runs allowed) or 40.50 (three runs), but 36 is impossible. (ERA=Earned runs allowed/innings pitched*nine--see for yourself) How can filmmakers who claim to love baseball but can't even get this detail right hope to make a movie with its heart in the right place?

Of course, they don't have their hearts in the right place. Rather, they have their heads up their asses and their hands in our pockets. This thing is a cash grab for the wallets of the nostalgic who can't remember why they liked the original. Two Fingers for Bad News Bears.

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Filthy's Reading
Jake Morrissey - The Genius in the Design

Listening to
Southern Culture on the Skids - Girlfight


Shaun of the Dead