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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Directors: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa (based on the 1976 screenplay by Bill Lancaster)
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton (Morris Buttermaker), Greg Kinnear (Roy Bullock), Marcia Gay Harden (Liz Whitewood), Sammi Kane Kraft (Amanda Whurlitzer), Ridge Canipe (Toby Whitewood), Brandon Craggs (Mike Engelberg), Jeffrey Davies (Kelly Leak), Timmy Deters (Tanner Boyle), Carlos Estrada (Miguel Agilar), Emmanuel Estrada (Jose Agilar), Troy Gentile (Matthew Hooper), Kenneth 'K.C.' Harris (Ahmad Abdul Rahim), Aman Johal (Prem Lahiri), Tyler Patrick Jones (Timothy Lupus)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2005
Country: U.S.
Bad News Bears
Bad News Bears Those familiar with The Bad News Bears, the 1976 anti-sentimental classic about a shoddy team of rough-housing, vulgar Little Leaguers, won't find much different in the basic narrative or the thematic underpinnings of Richard Linklater's sans-article remake. There are small changes, to be sure -- reluctant drunk of a coach Morris Buttermaker's occupation has been changed from pool cleaner to rat exterminator, a kid in a motorized wheelchair has been added to the team, and the Bears' unlikely sponsor has been altered from a bail bond company to something a little dirtier.

However, the vast majority of Bad News Bears is extremely faithful, right down to some of the camera angles and the amusing use of music from Georges Bizet's Carmen. More importantly, it still plays as a vicious undercutting of the twin Americana myths of sweet, rosy-cheeked suburban youth and the beneficial nature of a win-at-all costs mentality, especially as embodied in youth sports leagues. Still, for everything that's good about it, we're left with a nagging sense of “What's the point?” The remake doesn't improve on the original, nor does it change it significantly enough to make it seem worth the effort.

However, it does give Billy Bob Thornton another opportunity to do what he arguably does best, playing an obnoxious drain on society as he did in Bad Santa (2003), whose scribes Glenn Ficarra and John Requa penned the remake's script. Thornton takes the reins from Walter Matthau, who played coach-for-hire Morris Buttermaker in the original as a tired, hangdog loser. Thornton's Buttermaker is still a loser, but a more aggressive and energetic one who seems to almost enjoy wallowing in his depravity. Where Matthau was a typically shapeless sloth, Thornton is all sharp angles and tattoos. He has a sexual edge that Matthau didn't, which is humorously reflected in the inappropriate metaphors he uses to explain concepts like winning and losing to his players (“It's like dating a German chick …”).

The Bears themselves are the same motley group of underachievers and misfits, and many of the actors have been cast largely because they look like the kids from the original movie. Despite Linklater's success working with child actors in School of Rock (2003), he never quite seems to get a handle on his young cast here. The recognizable and therefore amusing petty preteen bitterness of the original has given way to something slightly darker here, although it may be simply a result of these kids not being as good of actors. They always seem to be trying a little too hard, when their badness should come off as a natural extension of their misfit status. It's what made the kids in the original sympathetic even when they were cussing and fighting and generally acting like animals.

Linklater and his writers still want Bad News Bears to play as a sharp indictment of the win-at-all-costs mentality and the way in which adults manipulate children to their own self-serving ends, and to a certain extent they're successful. Buttermaker himself becomes a victim of this mindset, but it's epitomized mainly in the opposing coach, Roy Bullock (Greg Kinnear). However, it is here that the new movie differs sharply from the original and to its detriment. Kinnear's overly stylish prig of a suburban coach-dad is infinitely less sinister than Vic Morrow's military-like sadist in the original. Kinnear is made out to be a pompous buffoon who doesn't realize just how overinflated he is, and when a crucial moment comes late in the movie that requires him to act violently toward his own son, it doesn't carry any weight. The awkward silence that follows is supposed to indict the cruel coach's behavior, but it feels more like an indictment of the movie itself.

Overall Rating: (2)

Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

All images copyright ©2005 Paramount Pictures

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