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Remaking This Movie is Bad News.
Posted Wednesday, May 12, 2004

by Bill Hogan


In April of 1976, President Gerald R. Ford was battling an energy crisis, "A Chorus Line" won the Tony Award for best musical and Barbara Walters became the first woman ever to anchor a network television news program.

Raymond Floyd won The Masters, Jack Fultz won the 80th annual Boston Marathon, "Disco Lady" topped the Billboard music charts and the Cincinnati Reds opened their baseball season as defending World Champs.


And in April, 1976, "The Bad News Bears," starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal, premiered in New York and Los Angeles. The popular baseball movie grossed over $32 million and still is regarded as one of the best ever sports movies.

Paramount Pictures has announced plans to remake the classic Little League film with Billy Bob Thornton starring in Matthau's role as the down-and-out alcoholic manager Morris Buttermaker. Bad idea.

There's no doubt that Billy Bob can handle the role of a boorish, irritable, pot-bellied drunk who hates kids. In fact, I think that's the role he played - to rave reviews - in "Bad Santa." And there's no reason that Paramount can't find a young, up and coming actress to fill Tatum O'Neal's baseball shoes.

The problem doesn't have anything to do with casting the starring roles; or fielding a team of misfit youngsters. The streets of Hollywood are filled with wannabe child actors capable of playing the part of Tanner and Lupus, Engelberg and Ogilvie.

The biggest obstacles that Paramount Pictures will face if they pursue the idea of remaking "The Bad News Bears" are Buttermaker and the Bears themselves. They are not fit for the socially conscious audience of the 21st century.

For starters, Coach Buttermaker – a pool cleaner by trade – is rarely seen without a beer in his hand; even when he is driving. He keeps a cooler in the back seat and a bottle of bourbon in the glove compartment. The kids often refer to him as Boilermaker. He once passed out drunk while pitching batting practice to the little tykes – the mound littered with empty Miller cans.

This certainly is not acceptable behavior for a responsible adult. And what about that cigar that is constantly hanging out of his mouth leaving the poor youths with no choice but to breath in deadly second hand smoke while sitting in the dugout.

When he transports the team – the whole team – around town in his convertible, Budweiser in hand, there is no seatbelt in sight. Not to mention that, by today's safety standards, little Lupus would be required to sit in a booster seat.

Buttermaker leaves the kids to clean his pools – breaking numerous child labor laws - while he tries to scrounge up a team sponsor. Then returns with new uniforms donated courtesy of Chico's Bail Bonds and has Lupus make him a martini.

Kelly Leak is the team's 11-year old, star centerfielder. He's also a Harley riding, chain smoking, air hockey hustler who hangs around the arcade trying to pick up women twice his age. He takes Amanda (Tatum O'Neal) to a Rolling Stones concert on his motorcycle - with neither child wearing a helmet. My kids don't even roller blade in the drive way without a helmet.

Then there's Tanner Boyle, the puny, foul mouthed shortstop. There's no way this character makes it to the big screen in the remake. Not without a serious rewrite, anyway. Tanner is prone to making racially and ethnically insensitive remarks; and he's a poor sport to boot.

The movie does have some elements with which modern audiences can relate. The Bears were able to field a team in the elite league after their parents filed and won a class action law suit. Buttermaker was secretly paid to coach the team because the parents all were too busy.

The coaches and parents of the other teams took the games so seriously that you'd have thought there was a major league contract at stake. Buttermaker was guilty of this as well, but came to his senses and let all the kids get a chance to play in the championship game – even Ogilvie.

If they aren't careful, a remake of this movie could be bad news for Paramount. If they are too careful, the movie will probably stink; again, bad news for Paramount. Either way, "The Bad News Bears," starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal, will always be near the top of my list of great sports movies.


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