Not to sound fresh or anything, but I've often caught myself admiring Richard Linklater's oeuvre. So diverse! So far-ranging!
From the Bergmanesque verbal foreplay of “Before Sunrise” (1994) to the power-chord situational comedy of “The School of Rock” (2003), the Texas-based filmmaker is as versatile as they come.
With “The Bad News Bears” — his remake of the rampantly tasteless 1976 Walter Matthau youth baseball flick — Linklater once again strikes into new territory. Here, finally, is the director showing us that he can make a truly bad movie: Anemic, amputated, humorlessly bereft of originality or substance. Hey, it had to happen sooner or later. Even Spielberg made “1941.”
Make no mistake, “Bad News” is truly bad news, a fact the movie seems determined to announce from the very first spiritless scene. Gone-to-seed ex-major-leaguer Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thornton) has just fumigated the basement of an upscale suburban home, triggering an exodus of rats into the kitchen. Instead of finishing the job, Buttermaker takes off, because he's such a lout. Clever stuff.
Sipping whiskey out of a nonalcoholic beer can, Buttermaker makes his way to the local youth baseball diamond, where he's being paid to coach a team of talentless misfits in an elite 12-and-under San Fernando Valley baseball league. Linklater and screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“Bad Santa”) have sanded down the more explicitly racist edges of Matthau's Buttermaker. Thornton never unleashes a stream of racial epithets (as Matthau memorably did), but he does tease the team's lone black player (K.C. Harris) for liking Mark McGwire instead of Barry Bonds or Willie Mays.
Thus begins an adventure in bad babysitting, as Buttermaker exposes his wards to alcoholic excess (one kid pours a mean martini), strippers (a “gentleman's club” sponsors the team) and PG-13 profanity before buckling down and turning the motley Bears into contenders. Greg Kinnear is nicely cast as Buttermaker's smarmy super-dad nemesis.
Essentially, this is Thornton resurrecting his “Bad Santa” routine on the baseball diamond, which sounds good in theory but in fact turns up a big comedic goose-egg. There's funny-crass, and there's just plain crass, and even Linklater can't keep this ball from landing on the wrong side of the foul pole.