Thursday, August 18, 2005

Review: The Bad News Bears

I remember reading a review sometime last winter which brilliantly dismissed a trite sentimental movie as "...the kind of movie that was meant for people for whom the highest praise they can give to a film is to say, 'That was a nice movie'".

I was thinking about this while watching The Bad News Bears the other day. This remake of the 1976 classic has Billy Bob Thornton in the Walter Matthau role, and one could probably write an entire dissertation about what the differences between their personae say about how our culture has shifted over the last generation. I don't remember the first film very well, but this one is clearly not a "nice movie", at least in the conventional sense.

But interestingly, the basic structure of the film is classic "nice movie" - a drunken, down on his luck former ball player takes on a team of misfits. The kids learn how to play, have success and grow in self-confidence, and the coach becomes a better man in the process. But the surface of the movie is decidedly and profoundly "not nice". There is lots of profanity and harsh, harsh dialog, and the coach behaves like one would expect a drunken, down on his luck former ball player to behave. This juxtiposition left me a little unsettled.

Aside from that essential question, the movie has a number of nice touches. The strong team in the kids' league wears lots of Under Armour gear, a trend I've noticed among the "I value my kids by spending gratuitously silly amounts of money on my kids' sports" parents in our community. The kids that are supposed to be good ball players are. The boy who plays Kelly Leak, the bad boy athlete who joins the Bears late in the season, has a really nice swing. And I really liked it that when the boys were describing Kelly's legendary feats and characteristics to the coach, one kid said, "He's in sixth grade but he's dating an eighth grader!" while one of the Spanish speaking kids described him as "...un vero Chupacabra".

But I'm still not sure about the movie. I wasn't bothered by the language. Kids talk like this, and I don't see much value in projecting an innocence onto children that they don't possess. On the other hand, I did find the shift of the team's sponsor to a strip club to be another regrettable example of the "mainstreaming" of the "adult" entertainment industry. But then again, the movie is set in the San Fernando Valley. (Giggle)

Most of the laughs in the film are in the "Oh ho ho - that's baaaaad" variety. And that's not very nice. I spend a lot time telling my students that "nice" and "good" are not the same thing, but this film has me wondering about the value of that distinction. In the end, I liked it, but I'm not entirely comfortable that I liked it, you know?

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