With all the remakes and old TV shows being turned into films this year, “Bad News Bears” ends up being another casualty along the way of average reduxs that make one wonder why did they bother. On paper it sounds great – Billy Bob Thornton, coming off his sleeper success in the ultra dark comedy “Bad Santa” brings that same acerbic asshole style character (albeit one less acidic – this is PG-13 after all) to bear as the coach of a baseball team full of young misfits. Its cheap to make, includes young kids acting like pricks which draws easy laughs, essentially uses the same script from the 1970’s original, and is helmed by acclaimed arthouse director Richard Linklater.
The same formula worked earlier this Summer with the Adam Sandler led “The Longest Yard” proving an enjoyable but empty comedy. Considering the much more proficient talent of those involved in ‘Bad’ its a failure, taken as is however it is a passable kids flick. The shock here is simply how generic this is – admittedly I’ve not seen the original film on which its based, but so much of this feels like its been lifted directly out of an old 70’s comedy that one must wonder why they felt the need to redo this. Indeed the original film’s writer gets top billing here, making one wonder that short of maybe making the humour a little nastier, what was actually changed.
The real surprise is Linklater. After such strong recent efforts as “Before Sunset” and “The School of Rock”, it seems a shame that he seems to have simply fallen asleep at the wheel. The pacing plods along throughout, awkwardly tripping over itself when it tries to pick up speed towards the end, but the story seems to go nowhere and Thornton’s character has a change of heart mid-way through that happens without any real explanation or cause. The film briefly brings up the issues of over competitive parents pushing kids too hard in the sports world, but never pursues it – rather relying on overused music from “Carmen” and an all too repeated joke about Greg Kinnear not wearing underwear.
Despite the limp wristed effort put in to throwing this ball, at times it does hit its target. The film knows that what people want to see is Thornton and the kids interacting and so the setup is gotten over quickly and little in the way of subplots are introduced which keeps the action firmly planted on Billy Bob and his young team. Thornton has a few good lines that, whilst not laugh out loud funny, do make one smile. The kids equally have a nice politically incorrect brashness to them, one who’s disabled uses that to milk naughty laughs quite well.
Its just overall the film feels off. The script is actually solid, some of the lines upon later consideration are quite raucously funny, but played out on film the timing and the delivery just seem… well, off. The result is a comedy that has a lot going for it but when the time comes to step up to the plate, it hits with a weak swing rather than the home run. The blame can’t go on Thornton or the kids who do well, sadly it must be pointed towards Linklater and the crew who just seem to not have had the energy or desire to craft something more engaging. What could’ve been a new family film classic ends up being an average but mildly fun diversion.