Film

Bad News Bears (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

Morris Buttermaker's (Billy Bob Thornton) efforts to 'get down' with his token black player lead to slogany appreciation for the struggle ('Don't trust whitey') and the requisite 'the shizzle'.


Bad News Bears

Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear, Marcia Gay Harden, Timmy Deters, Sammi Kane Kraft
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Paramount
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-07-22
What is it about being a man that makes everything so hard?
-- Liz Whitewood (Marcia Gay Harden)

Billy Bob Thornton first appears in Bad News Bears in the basement. It's dark. Rodents scurry over his feet to the stairway. He makes his way up to the kitchen, where he announces to the startled occupants, "You got a shitload a rats down there."

It seems a good enough start for a Billy Bob Thornton movie. Within a minute, you get the drift. This guy he's playing, Morris (the Blade) Buttermaker, is an ornery exterminator but also strangely resigned, smart enough to know he's settled for a crap life, but too exhausted to do much about it. And so he cracks open a beer, checks his watch, and heads off to his next appointment in his yellow Cadillac convertible. At the Little League field, he meets with Liz (Marcia Gay Harden), the local lawyer who's class-actioned her son Toby's (Ridge Canipe) team into accepting any and all players. She checks Buttermaker and looks uptight-aghast right off: "Are you drinking!?" Of course not, he reassures her. Okay, she flutters, before launching into an explanation of his duties as the Bears' new coach. They're perfect for each other.

But their relationship is not the focus of this lackluster remake of the much-loved 1976 Walter Matthau movie. Instead, as in the original, the premise is Buttermaker's salvation by affiliation with the baseball team made up of "misfits." Of course, he doesn't start off looking for anything like salvation. A former minor league player who once pitched 2/3 of an inning in the majors ("One of those times you just knew you had your shit working"), he describes his current situation like so: "I make a living killing rats so I can pay rent on a trailer." Sarcastic, frustrated, and frequently drunk, he sees the Bears as one more obstacle as he tries to survive his day. "I got enthusiasm flying out my ass," he proclaims.

The movie introduces his players according to type: they boast a range of abilities (one is in a wheelchair, another is overweight and slow, another short and puny, etc.) and backgrounds ("I got the damn League of Nations here," Buttermaker grouses). The kids are less bothered by losing games -- which they expect to do -- than by the details of their ordeal: "There are too many gnats out here," whines one kid during practice. Buttermaker observes their skills ("You guys swing like Helen Keller at a piñata party") and makes a decision: no more practice. Instead, he fills up their time otherwise, dragging them along to help him exterminate (catching a couple of them spraying poison at each other, he scolds, "Stop it, that's shit's expensive!") and teaching little Timmy Lupus (Tyler Patrick Jones) to mix vodka martinis at a pool party.

Eventually, all this poking around will give way to team effort and games-won montages. This after Buttermaker recruits a great pitcher, his ex's daughter, Amanda (Sammi Kane Kraft, a real life Little League pitcher) and a great hitter, long-haired, just-out-of-juvie skater boi Kelly (Jeffrey Davies), who has a crush on Amanda. The other kids keep on for the aren't-they-cute effect, as the film is vaguely nostalgic for a time when little kids pronouncing obscenities was considered hilarious mischief. Worse, Buttermaker's efforts to "get down" with his token black player, Ahmad Abdul Rahim (Kenneth "K.C." Harris), lead to slogany appreciation for the struggle ("Don't trust whitey") and the requisite "the shizzle."

As all of this suggests, even as a remake, Bad News Bears is surprisingly unimaginative, given director Richard Linklater's previous ingenuity, in films like School of Rock, Waking Life, and of course, Slacker. Sadly, the new film's standout aspect is its spectacularly incoherent editing. It hardly seems to matter what scene follows which. That's not to say Buttermaker is wholly without a trajectory, or that you can't figure it out by observing his relationships with Liz (with whom he does end up in bed, after she confesses her attraction to "the bad-boy, sexy scumbag" type) and the other notable adult in the film, the rival team's coach Bullock (Greg Kinnear).

Bullock's childish behavior might make Buttermaker seem relatively adult by comparison, but the contest is hardly worth the time it takes on screen. Bullock complains that Buttermaker is irresponsible, dishonest, and lazy. Bullock cheats, fumes, and fusses. The distinction between the men appears to be something about principle -- Buttermaker ends up having a couple, where Bullock reveals he will use his own son to cheat to win a Little League championship -- but the line is pretty thin. More to the point, it doesn't matter. Where Matthau and Tatum O'Neal worked a moment when adult redemption by association with children (who really wanted to be nice children, not little hellions) seemed a worthy ideal, now it all seems quaint. Or creepy.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image