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Bad News Bears (12A)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

THE pitch may be comprised of countless other movies but there is plenty of fun to be had in watching Bad News Bears - not least because it features another fantastically grizzled performance from Billy Bob Thornton.

The film is a remake of Walter Matthau's 1976 original and is also hopelessly similar to Will Ferrell's recent Kicking and Screaming.

But it is written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the team behind Bad Santa) and directed by Richard Linklater, who knows how to deliver a crowd-pleaser or two (remember School of Rock?).

Thornton plays Morris Buttermaker, a down-at-heel rodent killer with a passion for booze and loose women, who agrees to coach a young baseball team of no-hopers who possess as much bad attitude as the manager himself.

They're the unlikeliest athletes ever - and include a wheelchair-bound player among their line-up - but far from being put off by the challenge, Buttermaker wins them sponsorship from a local strip club and issues coaching tips in between sips from his beer/whisky.

Needless to say, the team improves dramatically and eventually poses a threat to the superiority of Greg Kinnear's defending league champions, placing them on course for the inevitable showdown.

Yet as second-hand as all this sounds, Bad News Bears works because of the way it messes with the conventions of the genre.

Thornton is unapologetically crass at times, even going so far as to bed the team's sponsor (Marcia Gay Harden) and passing out drunk on the training field.

The verbal exchanges between the manager and his young charges also push the boundaries of the 12A certificate, making it all the more refreshingly un-PC.

It's as though Bad Santa himself was coaching the Bears, given the similarities between Thornton's portrayal of both characters.

The kids, too, are a lively bunch who rise above some of the more obvious stereotypes to emerge as quite endearing, while Linklater's decision to use baseball players rather than actors merely adds to the film's authenticity - with Jeffrey Davies excellent as the hitter and Sammi Kane Kraft throwing like a convincing pitcher.

With so much in its favour, therefore, Bad News Bears strikes a near-perfect blend of comedy and excitement that makes a refreshing change from some of the more hopelessly contrived sports comedies of the moment.

Related stories: Billy Bob Thornton interview

Richard Linklater interview

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