Friday, July 22, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Billy Bob struts his baad self in minor-league remake

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Bad News Bears," with Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear, Marcia Gay Harden, Sammi Kane Kraft, Jeffrey Davies. Directed by Richard Linklater, from a screenplay by Bill Lancaster, Glenn Ficarra

and John Requa, based on the 1976 film written by Lancaster. 111 minutes. Rated PG-13 for rude behavior and language throughout, some sexuality and thematic elements. Several theaters.

Bad news for "Bad News Bears"? No, just mediocre. Richard Linklater's remake isn't any worse than the 1976 kids-talking-dirty baseball comedy "The Bad News Bears," but it certainly isn't any better, either. And while the screenplay has been slightly updated to the new millennium (the team's a bit more diverse, and I don't think Hooters was around in '76), it's really not all that different. All this adds up to a passable film that has no particular reason to exist.

The original film, which starred Walter Matthau as a washed-up alcoholic ballplayer who finds himself coaching a ragtag kids' team, was a big hit, spawning two lackluster sequels. In those days before political correctness, it was mildly shocking (and thrilling for kids who watched it — myself included) to hear 12-year-olds use raunchy language and racial slurs, and to see them matter-of-factly drinking beer.

Linklater's new version, updated by screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (from Bill Lancaster's original script), straddles a difficult line: The language remains offensive, but in a different way.

In 2005, apparently, racial slurs no longer fly, but homosexual epithets sneak in (from the mouth of young Tanner, a cheerfully foul towhead). The beer is now nonalcoholic, except for those constantly swigged by Billy Bob Thornton in the Matthau role; the cigarettes are gone, and the most shocking moment is one in which all the kids pile into Thornton's car to go for a ride, without seatbelts.

By the standards of the original, Linklater's film is a creampuff, but parents should note the PG-13 rating; This isn't a Disney movie.

What remains is a by-the-book underdog sports story, and while it's occasionally got a nice sunniness to it, there's a perfunctory feel to the proceedings, as if it was slapped together in a hurry.

A subplot about a former girlfriend of the coach has no payoff, and the kids pop on and off, delivering their lines but never really registering. Linklater proved, with "School of Rock," that he can do terrific work with kids, but he seems to be coasting here.

He's one of the busiest directors around (this is his fifth theatrical release since 2001), and perhaps that schedule is catching up with him; this film feels rushed and indistinct.

But Thornton is as vivid as ever; an agreeable loser wryly tossing out his lines like lazy pop flies, letting them hang in the air.

To a kid who wonders what to tell his strict father about the team's pathetic record, Thornton cheerfully tells him to lie, reminding the kid, "This is America."

If you missed "The Bad News Bears" the first time around, this one might be worth catching just for Thornton; otherwise, it's just extra innings on a game that's already played out.

Moira Macdonald:

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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