Published Jul 01, 2005I normally don't expect miracles from remakes of aging kid pix, but this surprisingly gripping retread of the 1976 Walter Matthau vehicle does the trick quite nicely.
Billy Bob Thornton is a drunken ex-ballplayer enlisted to coach a team of recalcitrant zeroes to little league glory; he's not crazy about them, they outwardly despise him, and that initially adds up to a match made in hell. But once he shakes off his cynical apathy, he coaches in earnest, grabs a couple of ringers and turns the sinking ship around to face a championship team coached by bourgie poser Greg Kinnear.
The usual pro-loser sentiment is here in surfeit, but the switch is that the filmmakers seem to genuinely mean it: not only has director Richard Linklater decided to commit to the dark implications of a bitter drunk coaching a bunch of pre-pubescent, but the writers come up with some sly interplay between the overtly anti-PC humour and a serious approach to the feelings of the frustrated, ethnically-mixed players. Just when you think you know where it's going, Linklater and company throw a curveball, making you laugh at stuff you never expected to and care about things lesser directors would blow off as irrelevant.
To be sure, worship for any movie with post-game parties at Hooters is pushing it, but it's nevertheless a solid picture that doesn't insult your intelligence and doesn't treat anyone as if they were unworthy of respect. And it single-handedly demolishes the accepted wisdom that comedy has to be without content, doing double duty as a breezy laugher and an exploration of what baseball's mindless pieties would mean if somebody actually lived up to them. (Paramount)