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Bad News Bears & Must Love Dogs
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“’Bad News Bears’ Good News For Summer Audiences”

 

Only Richard Linkletter (“Before Sunrise,” “School of Rock”) could remake the 1976 hit comedy “The Bad News Bears” virtually line for line and still manage to hit the ball out of the park. The movie’s freshness can be attributed to both Linkletter’s confident style but also camaraderie between the young cast members and assured leadership by Billy Bob Thornton in the role made famous by Walter Matthau.The plot closely follows the original.  Drunkard loser Buttermaker (Thornton) takes a gig coaching a motley team of un-athletic boys for a competitive little league.  When his lackadaisical brand of coaching doesn’t inspire the boys, he recruits an ex-girlfriend’s daughter (Sammi Kraft) to pitch and a hunky delinquent (Jeff Davies) to be the star hitter.  Held up to mockery by the other kids, parents and coaches, the Bad News Bears become a force with which to be reckoned, pummeling their way to the pennant.The “Bears” is a bit raunchy for a children’s film, filled with raw language, mostly out of the mouths of babes.  The raunchiness should come to no surprise since the screenwriters were responsible for the ribald Thornton vehicle “Bad Santa.” Teenagers and adults, though, will delight in the roughhousing.  Screenwriters Bill Lancaster, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa update slightly by adding a feisty paraplegic team member, Hooters waitresses in the Bear’s cheering section and focusing on bad parenting and the legacy of latchkey children.Not only is the script similar, composer Ed Shearmur infuses the original film’s choice of Georges Bizet’s Carmen with a modern Texas twang.The film’s lone disappointment, newcomer Sammi Kraft lacks the natural presence that 13-year-old Tatum O’Neal brought to the original film. As a “Bad News Bear” in my own youth (though unlike the clueless Lupus, I never caught that high ball EVER), I’ve always had a soft spot for the motley crew of losers in cleats.  This movie brings on the same nostalgia as the first.    

 

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“Must Love ‘Must Love Dogs’? Doubtful”

  Have you ever been on a date with a very nice person: someone conscientious, attractive, who can carry a conversation, yet you don't connect at all? You stare at the clock, you chew on ice, and you tap your feet on the floor because the evening has become eternal. “Must Love Dogs” made me laugh, and smile, but something didn't click. It could have been David Gary Goldberg’s sitcom-like script or slow pacing. It could be that stars Diane Lane and John Cusack (who both were very good) lacked chemistry or it could have just been the chicken I ate at Outback.Freshly divorced Sarah (Lane) finds herself on the online dating track after her sister (Elizabeth Perkins) places an ad for her.  In typical romantic comedy tradition, she and her future love (Cusack) awkwardly meet-cute in the park, clash over complications and eventually fall in love. What works in “Must Love Dogs” is Lane’s frustrated portrayal of a beautiful woman over forty watching her options dry up. Any attractive single person being passed over by ‘fresh meat’ can identify with this odyssey in courting-hell.Don’t be shocked to find Stockard Channing on this year’s Oscar race as a floozy dating Lane’s father (Christopher Plummer). The epitome of a trailer park resident, she manages to allow dignity to radiate through her character’s slovenliness. The rest of the cast works well together but the film tries too hard to put the audience in Lane and Cusack’s corner. The script even sabotages a relationship between her and Dermot Mulroney that seems contrived and melodramatic. 

An amusing diversion, “Must Love Dogs” should have been a perfect summer date movie, but nothing kills a romance quicker than focusing on two attractive, charismatic actors with zero sparks.  If Lane and Cusack can’t catch fire, what chance does average Joe have with Sally Simpson next to him.  Grade: Bad News Bears: B+; Must Love Dogs: C+

 
 
 
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