[Screen It]

(2005) (Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear) (PG-13)

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Comedy: An alcoholic exterminator agrees to coach a hapless little league team filled with brats, misfits and untalented players.
Morris Buttermaker (BILLY BOB THORNTON) is an alcoholic exterminator who, at the bequest of concerned mom Liz Whitewood (MARCIA GAY HARDEN), agrees to coach her son, Toby (RIDGE CANIPE) and the rest of his little league team, the Bears. Buttermaker figures it will be a walk in the park, since he was once a Major League player, even if for only part of one inning.

His opinion changes when he sees the rest of the players who in addition to being untalented, are a bunch of misfits and/or brats who can't win a game. There's the smart-mouthed Tanner Boyle (TIMMY DETERS); overweight and surly Mike Engelberg (BRANDON CRAGGS); smart kid Prem Lahiri (AMAN JOHAL); wheelchair bound Matthew Hooper (TROY GENTILE); Garo Daragebrigadian (JEFFREY TEDMORI) who's afraid his Armenian parents will see him as a disappointment; shy and goofy kid Timmy Lupus (TYLER PATRICK JONES); lone black kid Ahmad Abdul Rahim (KENNETH "K.C." HARRIS); and brothers Miguel (CARLOS ESTRADA) and Jose Agilar (EMMANUEL ESTRADA).

Despite getting paid for his gig, Buttermaker could care less about the kids and whether they win or not, but he gets inspired when he sees what a jerk rival coach Roy Bullock (GREG KINNEAR) can be. Enlisting the aid of his estranged, 12-year-old daughter Amanda Whurlitzer (SAMMI KANE KRAFT) and young rebel Kelly Leak (JEFFREY DAVIES) who actually have some talent on the field, Buttermaker sets out to whip the kids into shape and turn them into a winning team.

OUR TAKE: 2.5 out of 10
One of the advantages of seeing so many films as a movie reviewer is that you can reference older ones while viewing and later reviewing the latest offerings. While such references can occur in most any context, I've been known to go with the "nuclear option." That's where a movie is so bad that you wish some moment of mass destruction from a previous film might occur in the one you're watching to put the characters and viewers out of their collective misery.

And just that occurred during a recent screening of "Bad News Bears," the umpteenth remake of 2005, this time of the 1976 little league comedy, "The Bad News Bears." About halfway through this fiasco, when all hope of comedic recovery was lost, I leaned over to another critic and whispered that I hoped the war machine tripods from the recent "War of the Worlds" would erupt from the field and chase everyone off, thus putting an end to this mess.

All of which is a bit -- and only a bit -- of a surprise since it comes from the hands of Richard Linklater who proved with "School of Rock" that he can deliver a moderately entertaining film pairing a single adult with a bunch of kids. But then again, this offering also reunites star Billy Bob Thornton and writers Glenn Ficarra & John Requa (who previously penned "Cats & Dogs") who last collaborated on the awful and abrasive "Bad Santa."

In essence, Thornton is really just reprising his character (or at least the character type) from that film, albeit in a slightly sanitized and downgraded, PG-13 version compared to the earlier, harsh R. Simply put, if you enjoyed the character and actor's performance there, or the thought of kids cussing like sailors and otherwise acting bratty strikes you just right, you might find this offering to your liking. Otherwise, be prepared for a long and arduous sit (at nearly two hours) where the jokes and related dialogue fly fast but end up with an abysmal batting average.

The appeal, if you will, of the original came from two sources. The first was how the kids acted. It was, well, pretty much like they do here, but at least it was novel in its day. I laughed at it then (as a kid) but can't say if the same would hold true now, although it certainly seemed as if the kid characters in the original were more fleshed out and/or appealing than here.

I'm rather certain, however, that the second source -- Walter Matthau in the lead role -- would be just as funny now as it was way back when. While he played a variety of characters throughout his terrific career, the comedic legend was particularly good at playing the irritable curmudgeon. And he may very well have honed that skill with the original film before going full-bore with it later in the likes of "Dennis the Menace" and the "Grumpy Old Men" films.

As good as an actor Thornton can be (go back and watch "Sling Blade" if you doubt that), he's no Walter Matthau and thus his character isn't as appealing or funny. Although I realize the tone and nature of his performance is purposeful, it nevertheless feels weak and uninspired, especially after his previous coaching role in "Friday Night Lights."

The less said about the kids playing the kids the better, as most them are so stiff (in their rainbow coalition of child character types) that they feel like they were cast from a real little league game. It's doubtful that Sammi Kraft (making her debut) or Jeff Davies (ditto) will be remembered as fondly as Tatum O'Neal and Jackie Earle Haley from the original, while Timmy Deters looks almost like a clone of Chris Barnes from the first film. Greg Kinnear ("Stuck on You," "Auto Focus") and Marcia Gay Harden ("Mystic River," "Welcome to Mooseport") have supporting adult roles, but can do little with either.

And all of that boils down to the script and its anemic story, or lack thereof and the fact that the filmmakers often seemingly just rehashed the original's material down to various scenes and bits of dialogue. Then there's the point that from the recent "Rebound" and "Kicking and Screaming" through a host of predecessors, we've seen this same sort of plot so many times before -- where a reluctant coach gets motivated to turn his team of misfits/losers into a winning squad -- that there are zero surprises and one-hundred percent predictability.

Since the characters and performers don't fill in the resultant chasm of any sort of interesting material, we're left with a listless film that only could have been made better had the "War of the Worlds" robotic "cast members" made an explosive cameo. With the title aptly describing this offering, "Bad News Bears" rates as a 2.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 6, 2005 / Posted July 22, 2005

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