I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.
The Bears might not be quite in such dire straights as the psalmist (nor would they of appealing to God), but they come close. They are the butt of jokes from all the other teams of their baseball youth league. They are so bad that in his first game with them that their new coach calls forfeit because they are getting beaten so badly by the Yankees, the league’s leaders. Their new coach is Morris Buttermaker, an ex-baseball player now an exterminator crawling beneath houses in search of rodents and insect pests by day and hanging out nights at bars trying to parlay his athletic past into picking up women. His past glory was brief, his career spent in the minor leagues except for 2/3 of an inning when he pitched in the majors. Liz Whitewood (Marcia Gay Harden), an overly scheduled lawyer has hired him to coach the team of which her shy son Toby (Ridge Canipe) plays.
Except for Toby, the Bears are foul-mouthed and rebellious, possibly because of their parents forcing them to participate in a league where they are relentlessly humiliated. The Yankees are coached by the clean-cut Roy Bullock (Greg Kinnear), who heartily embraces Vince Lombardi’s infamous dictum about winning being everything. He may not carry around a non-alcoholic beer can filled with liquor, but he turns out to be no better a role model for the kids than Buttermaker. For the first couple of games the latter’s role model seems to be Tom Hank’s lethargic, alcoholic coach of A League of Their Own.
Seeing how humiliated the kids have become, Buttermaker begins to actually coach the kids. Lacking any respect for him, they resist him at first, but when he yells at them that the team is not a democracy, but a dictatorship, “and I’m Hitler!” they come around, Improving their performance level enough so that they come away from a game having tied the other team. The coach then recruits as pitcher his daughter from his failed marriage. Amanda Whurlitzer (Sammi Kane Kraft) is still steamed over his having walked out on her mother and failed to keep in touch with her during the last three years, but she finally relents. Her strong pitching arm and skills strike out most of the batters who come up against her, and, through hard practice, some of the other players improve enough, the team becoming “Bad News” for their opponents. Another reluctant recruit who finally agrees to play, turning out to be a powerful slugger, is Kelly Leak (Jeffrey Davis), the Bears now even becoming Bad News for the Yankees, whom, of course, they will meet in the Big Game.
My main reason to see still another remake of an old film is Billy Bob Thornton. He is worth watching even in a so-so film. Taking on Walter Mathau’s role in the original film, Thornton, aided by a talented cast of kids, makes us, for once, glad that someone did decide to remake the old film. It is a funny addition to the long list of underdogs coming from behind films, with the characters gaining self-respect and a sense of accomplishment and comradeship, whether they win or lose.
(Spoiler in the last question, so you might want to wait to read the following.)
1) The “underdogs coming from behind film” could be regarded as a genre in itself. What are some other such films, and which is your favorite?
2) What Biblical stories, such as David and Goliath, have a similar theme? How about the kinds of people Jesus spent most of his time with? Do you think he would feel more at home with the Yankees and their respectable coach, or with the Bears and their disreputable Buttermaker? Why?
3) At what point in the film do you see Buttermaker taking his coaching role seriously? How does he begin to make his players feel better about themselves? What does this do for their performance on the field?
4) When do you see Buttermaker succumbing to the same lust for winning that corrupts Roy Bullock? How do we see this in his instructions when his smallest player comes up to bat? What changes him?
5) How satisfying did you find the ending? How did the filmmakers refuse to play to the audience?