Linklater's Bad News Bears
The first decade of the 21st century has been a fruitful time for director Richard Linklater. After regaining his artistic footing with the back-to-back releases of the animated philosophy class Waking Life and the claustrophobic drama Tape in the same year, he whipped up the biggest box-office hit of his career with the winning School of Rock. He followed that up with a film that displayed the full power of his aesthetic approach and deepened his already weighty themes, Before Sunset - the best work of his career and so far the best film of this decade. Bad News Bears allows him to ease up on the gas peddle. That is not to say the film is lazy or lacks his remarkable ability to observe characters without judgment. The film is well-directed, solidly written, and the performers (both professional and amateur) are engaging. Billy Bob Thornton delivers another first-rate comedic performance that manages to stay remarkably faithful to the indelible memory of Walter Matthau’s work in the original while being different enough that you never compare the two while watching this new version. However there is something off in the basic conception of the film. Both this film and the original are about skewering American sacred cows. Linklater finds ways to make pointed comments about the War in Iraq that would make Michael Ritchie smile. He obviously admires the original film, occasionally lifting from it entire sections of dialogue (the script is partly credited to the screenwriter of the original film) and even some shots. But a reverent ode to irreverence, however well-crafted, can’t help but seem inessential. As solid as Linklater’s film is, coming off of his most recent work and with the memory of the perfect original, inessential is how it feels.