Unhappy with his team's haphazard performance on the ball field, scrappy blond-headed Tanner Boyle (Timmy Deters, a virtual look-alike to the 1976 original's Chris Barnes) laments that his Bears have gone from "suck to stink." That's about what happens with this remake, which starts out poorly and doesn't get much better.
Following the original script as closely as it does, it shouldn't be any worse, especially given the talent involved, with Billy Bob Thornton in Walter Matthau's role as Buttermaker, Greg Kinnear in Vic Morrow's place as the opposing Yankees coach and Marcia Gay Harden as the parent who gets the Bears into the league. But director Richard Linklater messes up the formula by cheesing up some parts and flattening out others.
Harden, usually a solid comedian, is laughable on screen as an overbearing single mom, and is painful to watch when she's trying to seduce Buttermaker with a basket of homemade flavored vinegars. Kinnear has one shining moment in the championship game when he tears into his own son, but other than that he suffers with no good lines. He's merely the butt of a lot of groin jokes.
Thornton, lean and angry, never gets that cuddly feeling across that Matthau was able to project. He also never really sells the drunken-lout persona, which should have been a breeze for him. He goes for deadpan instead, which turns his inappropriate sexual stories and malapropisms into dirtballs as far as kids are concerned. Parents will get the jokes, but they won't be laughing. His stilted delivery turns each segment into a set piece, strung together only by nostalgia. He completely takes the flow out of the Bears' well-known trajectory from losers to contenders.
The kids also have a difficult time. Linklater chose real athletes for the two key roles of pitcher Amanda and bad boy Kelly Leak, where original director Michael Ritchie picked kid star Tatum O'Neal and Jackie Earle Haley. The difference shows, as athlete Sammi Kraft might look good on the mound, but her lisping delivery just can't pull off the drama. And Florida native Jeff Davies looks more like a happy surfer boy than a disgruntled teen, and he can't pull off any of the required gruffness.
Linklater spruces up the rest of the team, turning nerdy Ogilvy into an Indian named Prem and making Ahmad oblivious to the Black Power movement. But some of the changes make things worse, like shifting the burden of the worst kid on the team to a boy in a wheelchair (Troy Gentile), which pulls the focus away from Timmy Lupus (Tyler Patrick Jones), who was one of the best characters in the original. Also, the director ups the ante on the grittiness by having the team celebrate after victories at Hooters and having a gentlemen's club sponsor the uniforms, although at least there's a nod to Chico's Bail Bonds.
The Bears eventually end up as self-respecting winners, but the misfit crew behind the movie never gets much past an odorous display. Let's hope this gang doesn't reunite to break training, or, heaven forbid, go to Japan.
iVillage Mood Meter: Will make you cringe so many times you'll think you're ducking pitches at the plate
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear, Marcia Gay Harden
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenwriters: Bill Lancaster, Glenn Ficcara, John Requa
Producers: Geyer Kosinsky, Richard Linklater
Release date: July 22, 2005, nationwide