Nobody plays a likeable scumbag like Billy Bob Thornton. From a murderous hillbilly to a drunken, foul-mouthed Santa, he has made a career of playing eccentric curmudgeons, and he has perfected the art of being repellent, but somehow strangely charming. In this remake of the much-loved 1976 Walter Matthau comedy, Thornton is a natural as the booze-soaked Little League coach who finds himself managing a ragtag team of potty-mouthed misfits. He’s the kind of guy who wears a t-shirt that reads “She Looked Better Last Night” to Little League practice, and builds “team spirit” by getting the kids to do the dirty work in his extermination business.
The script stays faithful to the original movie—although in keeping with the times, is probably a little more vulgar. Bad Santa scribes Glenn Ficarra and John Requa know how to write for Thornton, keeping him just on the right side of the film’s PG-13 rating with dialogue peppered with the kind of profanity and slurs Matthau would never have dreamed of saying on screen.
The remake also takes liberties with the original movie’s line-up of players—the fat kid, the nerd etc—adding in characters that better reflect today’s cultural landscape. There is an Armenian kid, a boy in an electric wheel-chair and a youngster who appears to be a few runs short an inning and for the most part the kids are foul-mouthed little hellions who will likely inspire parents to send their adolescent kids to boot camp just to make sure they don’t turn out like this bunch.
The recent Bad News Bears shares much with its predecessor, but with a contemporary edge. It delights in confronting—and stomping on—the kind of political correctness that simply didn’t exist in 1976 when the first one was made and in that sense is a film that is very much of it’s time—a little edgier, a little meaner, but just as funny.
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