Bad News Bears
Directed by Richard Linklater

Written by Bill Lancaster, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Starring Billy Bob Thornton


Bad News Bears

Watching the trailer for "Bad News Bears," a two-minute series of quick cuts that takes great pleasure in mixing delicious one-liners with moments of pure physical comedy, I confess to happily counting the days till the film opened and I could review it. It's the remake of the Walter Matthau baseball comedy about a worn-out loser who takes over the coaching of a rag-tag group of kids and takes them to the league finals, and I was delighted at the casting of Billy Bob Thornton, who was born to play this role and whose slacker persona and throwaway line readings seemed perfect for the film. And the inventive director Richard Linklater ("Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset," "Dazed and Confused," "Waking Life") would surely add a richness to a remake whose original was just a one-man show for Matthau.

But the new film itself is a disappointment; there's a plodding quality to the direction, an unforgivable slackness in the editing that weakens the comic moments - movie trailers are edited by a different crew - and a script, with the writer of the original film getting first credit, that seems to have been a cut-and-paste job. Thornton works off his "Bad Santa" persona here, as Morris Buttermaker, a drunk whose claim to fame was an inning pitched for the Mariners some years ago; now he's an exterminator. He's sloppy, he's crude, he's unconcerned with the niceties of life and morality, he's never without a can of beer in his hand, usually laced with liquor. Thornton is so good that we squirm at how badly Linklater has dealt with him, cutting away from his best moments, never letting a scene finish before moving on, and never quite defining any of the subsidiary adult characters - Greg Kinnear as the coach of the hated rival Yankee team, and Marcia Gay Harden as the clueless mother of one of his players.

Almost all sports films follow an arc whose outcome we know, or can guess, from the very first scene: the team is assembled (in this case the kids are all rejects, including one boy in a wheelchair), they march up the ladder in the standings, they gain confidence, they get to the finals - and then, choose one, they win or they lose at the last moment. The pleasure of these films, if there is any, comes from the way in which they get there. "Bad News Bears" follows the script to the letter, which is fine, and there are some delicious moments, including one in which he uses the team to clean out the vermin from one of his customers' homes using lethal chemicals. But when all the best lines are used in the trailer, there just isn't very much left in the film itself.