[Editor's Note: Take Two is an occasional series about remakes, reboots, relaunches, ripoffs, and do-overs in every cinematic genre.]
Ahh, baseball! The invigorating thrill of freshly cut grass, the sweet pop of leather and oak on a summer day! A lyrical little game, with a literary pace worthy of Updike, Angell, Malamud, Roth, Lardner, and Coover! A game of simple food, endless statistics, fathers and sons, and mustaches. America's pastime.
Which is all to say: Satirizing American culture by satirizing baseball is almost too easy. There are moments during The Bad News Bears and its nearly shot-for-shot 2005 remake where the story seems like it's telling itself, and not in the good way. The plot is as hackneyed an underdog tale as you'll ever find, and really the only joke in either film is, "Look at this louse, listen to this profanity! Aren't they so incongruous with this ostensibly wholesome sport!" From the moment that washed up ex-pro Morris Buttermaker parks his puke-green convertible and pours beer onto the gravel parking lot in the films' opening scenes, we know exactly where the movies are going and how they'll get there.
In 1976, Buttermaker was Walter Matthau—over the hill, perpetually stubbled, and bleary-eyed at all hours. In 2005, he was Billy Bob Thornton, wearing a stupidly slick handlebar-soul patch combination and a series of improbably crisp polo shirts along with his lecherous fake smile. And that's essentially the difference between the two films. The original, directed by Michael Ritchie, has a slack charm in its editing and construction that fits the story and characters. But somehow Richard Linklater—the director, fer chrissake, of a film called Slacker—never gels with this story. His version, as expected, is beautifully constructed, full of languid long shots and rhythmic editing. But for a director who routinely elicits career-best performances from his actors, Linklater's cast (with the exception of Greg Kinnear, who's always best when playing an asshole) all seem afloat and mismatched to the material. And while the script bubbles with the obligatory salty language, the set design and music are altogether too clean and polished to fit a movie about lovable slobs.