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One might think that filmmakers who are moved to remake an old picture would look for at least some small way of distinguishing their effort from its predecessor. But in taking on “Bad News Bears” Richard Linklater and his associates appear to have been content to come as close as possible to replicating their nearly three-decade old model. Of course there are some alterations. The cast is different, since Walter Matthau is no longer with us to play the hapless Little League coach and Tatum O’Neal, now in her forties, might just be a trifle long in the tooth to repeat her role as the team’s star pitcher. In a rare instance of creative thought, one of the team members has been given a wheelchair, and the ethnicity of the others has been diversified; other characters have been tweaked in terms of gender and attitude. (The rival coach played by a slimy Greg Kinnear is much less threatening than Vic Mirrow was, and a woman, played archly by Marcia Gay Harden, is now the catalyst for Buttermaker’s hiring.) And the rough language in the mouth of babes has been updated somewhat. But in most respects the sense of near-duplication is overwhelming. The script is so faithful to the original that it employs many of the character names from the earlier movie. (When one’s been changed, it’s such a rare phenomenon one searches for a rationale behind it.) Edward Shearmur’s score, like Jerry Fielding’s before it, recycles tunes from Bizet’s “Carmen.” Even the mood, style and pacing Linklater has adopted–ragged, shambling, lackadaisical–have the feel of a seventies picture rather than a slick modern Hollywood product.

Of course, the first “Bad News Bears” was a moderately amusing comedy, and so a close cousin of it like Linklater’s will necessarily share some of its virtues. The idea of a bunch of misfits improving under the tutelage of a curmudgeon is a formula that’s as popular–if not more so–in 2005 as it was in 1976, and although audiences will be more familiar with it now than they were then, it still has appeal. There’s a leanness to Linklater’s work that gives the picture a warmly grubby feel. Billy Bob Thornton coasts easily through the part of Coach Buttermaker much as Matthau did, serving up the requisite portions of laid-back crabbiness and a reluctantly avuncular quality. And the youngsters are an amiable lot, from Sammi Kane Kraft’s hard-bitten Amanda and Jeffrey Davis’ near-delinquent but talented Kelly to Tyler Patrick Jones’ inept Lupus and Timmy Deters’ hyper-aggressive Tanner. And Bruce Curtis’ production design, Rogier Stoffers’ camerawork and Sandra Adair’s editing all contribute nicely to Linklater’s slightly scruffy vision.

But all of that doesn’t diminish the sense of redundancy that plagues the movie. While it may provide mild amusement to those who’ve never made the acquaintance of the earlier picture, it’s unlikely to bring anything to those who have beyond a a low-grade nostalgia. And it certainly lacks the canny combination of exuberance and warmth that marked Linklater’s last foray into family entertainment, “Rock School.” The sad but certain fact is that “Bad News Bears” is not so much a terrible movie as an unnecessary one.


This is the sort of movie one approaches with trepidation–a by-the-numbers family flick showcasing a star playing coach to a bunch of bumbling kids he “surprisingly” turns into unlikely winners. The plot will be excruciatingly familiar to anyone who’s seen pictures in the genre from “The Mighty Ducks” to “Kicking and Screaming,” not to mention what seem like hundreds of others in between. And yet “Rebound” turns out to be not as bad as you might expect. Sure, it’s utterly predictable. And yes, it’s completely unbelievable. It’s hardly a good movie. But it could have been a lot worse. And with this sort of movie, you learn to appreciate mediocrity when sheer awfulness seems likelier.

Martin Lawrence plays Roy McCormick, a college basketball coach who’s become less interested in his job than his endorsement deals. When he’s banned by the league after his notorious temper has an unfortunate effect on an opposing team’s mascot, his agent (Breckin Meyer) finds a loophole that will permit his reinstatement if he remains on good behavior for the rest of the season. The problem is that the only team available for him to coach is the one from his old junior high–the Mount Vernon Smelters–a ragtag bunch of losers who haven’t scored, let alone won a game, in eons. Roy’s not really interested in coaching the kids, but, wouldn’t you know it, he eventually comes around, and so do they. And along the way he not only connects with the single mom (Wendy Raquel Robinson) of his star player (Oren Williams), but–can you believe it?–finds out what’s really important in life. (Just a hint: It’s not his money, his big house, his advertising contracts or even his job. It’s…well, you know.)

It would take a book as long as the telephone directory of a major city to list the cliches in this script, attributed to no fewer than five sets of hands (three responsible for the story, and two who actually wrote it). The absurdities are even worse. All it takes to transform the team from a bunch of inept oafs to a championship squad, it appears, is a little attention; certainly we see no evidence of serious training or drills. And is there really a state championship tournament for junior high?

But what matters in a movie like this, of course, isn’t whether it’s realistic but whether it’s tolerable. And wonder of wonders, “Rebound” is. Steve Carr’s direction is at best pedestrian, but at least it’s not as unremittingly frantic as his work on “Daddy Day Care.” Lawrence, who’s often R-rated crude, tunes himself down to the point where’s he’s actually rather likable. (Why he also appears briefly in the guise of a flamboyant preacher, however, is beyond understanding. It’s a poorly staged bit, and desperately unfunny. Maybe Lawrence just insisted on showing off his supposed range.) And he’s surrounded by a group of kids who are also, rather miraculously, not obnoxious. In addition to Williams, who sort of resembles the (then L’il) Bow Wow of “Like Mike,” there’s One Love (Eddy Martin), who cares more about the appearance of his sneakers than his game; Goggles (Gus Hoffman), with the big glasses; chubby Fuzzy (Logan McElroy); tomboy Bic Mac (Tara Correa), the girl recruited as team enforcer; and Wes (Steven Christopher Parker), the tall, shambling kid who has to overcome his shyness to overawe his opponents. There’s also the chinless Ralph (Steven Anthony Lawrence), who has a proclivity that seems obligatory in movies aimed at kids nowadays–to throw up in stressful situations. But even he isn’t as irritating as some of the adults, especially Patrick Warburton as the loud-mouthed, arrogant coach who becomes McCormick’s bete noire. And the Tom Arnold-led camera whores from Fox’s “The Best Damn Sports Show Period” show up again to provide supposed commentary to the action. These guys are getting to be as depressingly frequent in that sort of role as Larry King used to be. Like most pictures aimed at the family trade, this one was obviously made on a limited budget, and it’s hardly beautiful-looking or visually stylish. But it gets by in those areas.

As familiar as it is, “Rebound” could well have been titled “Replay,” but although it’s just a formula flick, it’s not an awful one. Too bad that’s not saying much.