I saw Bad News Bears last night, and while I found the experience enjoyable -- largely on the strength of the original material, which a wise man once described as "a movie that did more to liberate a generation than any Underground film ever shown on IFC" -- it will still have to rank as yet another re-make that neuters the misanthropic edge out of a '70s classic. Not to spoil too much, but Yankee "program" coach Greg Kinnear opts for camp instead of Vic Morrow's Falling Down-style menace, and (most unforgivably of all) the beer Buttermaker gives the kids after the championship game is non-alcoholic.
The easy explanation is that modern filmmakers (Slacker's Richard Linklater, in this case) simply don't have the nerve to be unapologetically nasty. But the theory I'd throw before the court is, maybe we're just not that nasty a country anymore. Watching pint-sized hero Tanner Boyle punch everything that moves yesterday, while tremendous fun, felt anachronistic. Surly, inexplicably violent surfer-dude eight-year-olds were certainly part of the Southern California landscape in the Decade of Divorce, but nowadays I'd expect childhood dysfunction to manifest itself more as the whiny preciousness that comes with over-protective rearing. The re-make tries, with very mixed results, to update parenting pathologies (my favorite detail is introducing -- and making fun of -- an Armenian kid, which is the first time I've seen the SoCal Armenian immigration boom acknowledged in popular art), but the first flic's truly uncomfortable punches (Morrow's confrontation with his own kid, Tatum O'Neal's poignant alienation from bad dad Walter Matthau) are noticeably pulled here.
While it makes for a worse movie, and begs the question of why this version was done at all, maybe softening the edges is simply more accurate. We now live in a country where big moments on the professional baseball diamond are no longer automatically accompanied by thousands of half-drunk fans flooding the field to tackle the victors; where power black-outs are no longer guaranteed riots; where inflation is tamed, presidents aren't morose, and Little League is no longer the favorite dumping ground for latch-key parents. Though the latter wasn't yet true when I coached the Bad News Royals in 1990....
UPDATE: Of course, some of the changes were made to keep a PG-13 rating. Commenter Mith points us to this interview with Linklater:
You accept the rules these days and how things have changed. Like for instance, you can't show kids smoking in movies. You just can't. I think the studios can be sued. You just don't depict underage people smoking, in TV, movies, anything. It's just part of our culture now. So, you know, I could have filmed Kelly [Leak] smoking and then I could be beating my chest here and saying, Oh they made me cut this and it's all hypocritical. But why pick that fight? It's just, that's our culture. I'm realistic enough and I'm not so masochistic to take on these fights. [...]
one of the [lines that we had to cut] was like, "Hey you better shut up before I tell someone you got all Catholic on my privates." So that exists, yeah. Now it'll be on the DVD.