Review: Bad News Bears (2005)

Bad News Bears screenshot

Year: 2005 | Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Look, I’m likely the biggest Richard Linklater fan you’ll ever meet, and there’s a reason why Bad News Bears was the last feature-length narrative film that I hadn’t seen from him.

I totally get what drew him to this project; he’s a lifelong baseball fan, and after the success of School of Rock (2003), I understand the impulse to strike while the iron is hot and go back to that well. And with the writing duo behind Bad Santa (also 2003) teaming back up with Billy Bob Thornton, I can see why on paper this project seemed like a home-run (shameless pun intended). I mean, School of Rock meets Bad Santa sounds like my dream movie.

And for sure, most of the problems with this movie are not Linklater’s fault (or at least, not entirely). The script is an absolute mess, featuring the use of many slurs that make it more offensive than anything contained within Bad Santa (a movie that I love dearly, I might add). It tries way too hard to be edgy with the kids swearing, but none of it is natural and it just comes off as forced and gimmicky. And for the love of all that is holy, why in the hell is this film nearly two hours long? Most of this movie is more boring than an actual Little League baseball game, and that’s saying a lot. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s awful script for this movie has without a shadow of a doubt convinced me that the rumored uncredited rewrite of the Bad Santa script by the Coen Brothers is 100% real. And it’s a far cry from Mike White’s masterful School of Rock script.

But with that being said, I think that this is the first film of Linklater’s that I’ve seen where I feel like he might have been phoning it in at some points. Yes, he has other…less great movies, but at with films like The Newton Boys (1998), Fast Food Nation (2006) and Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2019) there were at least attempts to do something different and interesting, even if it didn’t always quite come together. But here, the normally sure-handed filmmaker makes some really puzzling directing choices, resulting in a film that lacks really any of his signature charm that still manages to come through on all of the other films that he didn’t write. And in stark contrast to School of Rock, the kids here aren’t well-directed at all. Granted, maybe this group of kids is simply less talented than the kids from School of Rock, but I can’t help but feel like Linklater could have pulled better performances out of them given his track record with young actors.

Now, to be fair, during the last 30 minutes or so of this movie, it sort of comes together and the extended last game sequence is by far the best-directed part of the entire film. But even then, there are at least two moments of potential emotional resonance that I can remember that are completely undermined by the cartoony score playing underneath them. In fact, all of the music in this film is just dreadfully awful, which is how you really and truly know that Linklater, the master of the soundtrack, didn’t bring his A-game to this one.

Overall, Bad News Bears is a long, boring, outdated slog that does too little, too late in the third act to salvage much of anything. I don’t think that it’s a stretch to suggest that this is pretty handily Richard Linklater’s worst film, but honestly, anybody who’s familiar with this film’s reputation at all already knew that.

Language: English
Genre: Comedy
Runtime: 1 hr. 53 min.
Rating: PG-13

Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear, Marcia Gay Harden, Sammi Kane Kraft, Ridge Canipe

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