This remake is better than I expected, and, even though it's Linklater, I really wasn't expecting much.
Morris Buttermaker is a washed-up boozy exterminator who once had a career as a minor league baseball player (with a very, very short stint in the majors) who agrees to coach a lousy team of misfits, if only because he needs the paycheck.
Yeah, it's the typical underdog sort of scenario, but with a twist. It's also pretty faithful to the original, even recreating some scenes almost note for note. It does enough to stand out on its own with some of the changes it makes, and that's good. Essentially it's a filtered version of Bad Santa to a degree, but even then it's surprisingly watchable and enjoyable.
Thornton delivers the sort of performance you'd expect given the character, and I liked him, even though he's not supposed to be likable. The team is a motley crew of typical misfits, but they deliver decent performances that rise above the ranks, making characters that stand out from the norm of this sort of scenario. Of the kids, my favorites include the late Sammi Kane Kraft as ace pitcher (and token girl) Amanda, Timmy Deters as the pint-sized foul mouth Tanner, and Troy Gentile as the wise-cracking wheelchair bound Matt Hooper. As for the other adults, Greg Kinnear is okay as the rival coach who personifies the parent that overvalues winning, and Marcia Gay Harden is giving the thankless role of the ACLU-minded hardworking mom who thinks all kids should be given a chance at everything, just because.
The film has some of the expected sports movie cliches, but ultimately avoids being a paint-by-numbers affair. I also liked that, while it is sort of aimed at a younger audience, it doesn't pull punches, and easily earns the PG-13 rating, with some of these kids being hilariously edgy right along with Thornton. One of my favorite examples of this is when he offers the kids non-alcoholic beer as a celebration, and Tanner comments, "Non-alcoholic beer? What's the damn point?" That's pretty funny.
Better than it has any right to be, this is a pretty decent film. Yeah, it has the smell of familiarity all over it, but Linklater is a smart filmmaker, and while he clearly has reverence for the original, he smartly does enough to set his remake apart and make it relatable to contemporary audiences. Give it a go.