Three classic comedies about growing up!
There have been countless movies made about America's favorite pastime. For some reason, it seems that baseball is the most cinematic of all sports (a close second to good old football). Eight Men Out, Bull Durham, The Sandlot, Field Of Dreams, For Love Of The Game…the list is seemingly endless. In 1976, Paramount Pictures had a surprise hit with the Walter Matthau (Grumpy Old Men) vehicle The Bad News Bears. The story of a lousy manager and an even lousier batch of young ball players, The Bad News Bears went on to make mucho bucks for Paramount at the box office, as well as spawning two inferior sequels: The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training and The Bad News Bears Go To Japan, starring William Devane (Family Plot) and Tony Curtis (Some Like It Hot), respectively. Paramount has released all three of these classic 1970s comedies on DVD in very, very bare bones editions.
Facts of the Case
The Bad News Bears
When a little league team named The Bad News Bears are in need of a coach, one of the boy's fathers turns to Morris Buttermaker (Matthau), a has-been minor league baseball player who now supports his alcohol and smoking habits by cleaning and maintaining pools. Taking the dysfunctional team under his wing, Buttermaker at first sees the kids as a lost cause because, let's face it, the kids suck at baseball. The team of misfits includes every stereotype in the book: there's the overweight Engelberg (Gary Lee Cavagnaro), the fighting mad Tanner (Chris Barnes), the token black kid who wants to be like Hank Aaron (Erin Blunt), the chain-smoking rebel Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley), Ogilvie the Brainiac (Alfred W. Lutter), and so on, and so on. Each kid seems about as fit for playing baseball as Gary Coleman is at reciting Shakespeare. No matter, for Buttermaker plans on shaping this group into a winning team! With the help of a talented pitcher named Amanda (Tatum O'Neil), Buttermaker's ex-girlfriend's kid, Buttermaker plans on beating the gruff Roy Turner's team (Vic Morrow, The Twilight Zone: The Movie) once and for all! Go Bears!
The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training
The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training picks up a year after the Bears previous championship game. After dumping a new tough-as-nails coach, the Bears are faced with the chance to play the Huston Toros at the Astrodome in Texas. With a new slick pitcher on their team named Cameron (Jimmy Baio, cousin of Scott), the Bears quickly devise a way to get from California to good old Texas un-chaperoned and led by the rebellious Kelly Leak. Once in Texas the Bears run into some trouble at their hotel with the manager and the local police (it doesn't hurt that the van they've been using is actually stolen). Kelly turns to his father (Devane), who just happens to be located in Texas as well. Mr. Leak agrees to coach the boys and help them with their game, much to Kelly's dismay. However, it will take more than just a few hours of practice for the Bears to get ready for their big game against the Toros. With a little determination and wit, the Bears just might be able to beat their adversaries and win their way to Japan for their next big challenge!
The Bad News Bears Go To Japan
You guessed it: the infamous Bad News Bears are on their way to the orient for one last game against a seemingly unbeatable Japanese team! Led by a cunning con artist named Marvin Lazar (Curtis), the Bears are in for a wild ride around Japan that includes Asian wrestling matches, the irascible Kelly Leak falling in love, and even the beast of all beasts, Godzilla! Used as the perfect patsies for a get-rich-quick scheme by the sneaky Lazar, the Bears are going to have to use every trick in the book as they take to the field for their swan song performance in the land of rice and sushi!
Is there any formula more promising than teaming up snotty kids with a grumpy old adult? And what better grumpy old adult than good old grumpy Walter Matthau? It's just a shame that Matthau didn't stick around for the sequels, for his presence is sorely missed.
I think I saw the Bad News Bears movies when I was a kid. I can't really remember. As I watched them at the age of 25, I was struck by how nostalgic they felt. These are movies that invoke a different time, a simpler time, a more innocent time (or, maybe that's just how I remember it). I myself grew up on little league sports—I think my parents enrolled my brother and me in almost every sport imaginable, including (but not limited to) tennis, softball, swimming, gymnastics, golf, and soccer. Of these, my most vivid memories are of being on the soccer field. My parents actually used to bribe me with $20 bills if I'd just score a goal (needless to say, you can see why I eventually ended up in high school theater during my formative teenage years).
But enough of my reminiscing. The Bad News Bears will please everyone who ever went through suburban sports as a kid. The first in the series is a funny, raunchy movie directed by Michael Ritchie (the guy behind the hysterical Fletch and Fletch Lives). Matthau gives a wonderful performance that, while not groundbreaking, is solid and…well, typical Matthau comedy (lots of cigars, lots of beer, lots of crankiness). The kids each have their own personalities, meaning some are funny, some are not. My favorite of the group is Tanner, a hotheaded little punk who calls everyone "cruds" and thinks that ethnic differences is a four-letter word. Tatum O'Neil as the abrasive Amanda is bland but cute, while Jackie Earle Haley is effectively slimy as the angry Kelly Leak. Unfortunately, some of the other kids get lost in the shuffle. I felt bad for Engelberg, the notorious fat kid who is the target of many jokes. And two Hispanic kids who don't speak a lick of English are just there so we can point and say, "Ha! Those kids can't speak English! Now that's funny!" Surprisingly, The Bad News Bears is rated PG. While the PG-13 rating wasn't around in 1976, I was somewhat shocked that this movie got by with as many swear words and obscenities thrown at the screen. Matthau seems to say the word "ass" sixteen dozen times. If The Bad News Bears has any faults they lie in the fact that story is now well worn and fairly predictable. Chugging along at about an hour and forty minutes, it takes far to long to get to the inevitable big game between the Bears and their adversaries. Even so, that can be overlooked if only because the film takes a different and refreshing look at the relationship between the Bears and their disgruntled manager.
Whereas The Bad News Bears falters in a few areas, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and The Bad News Bears Go To Japan falter in almost every area on the map. The Bad News Bears wasn't really a movie that deserved a sequel (much less two of 'em), but here they are in all their splendid glory. This time around Matthau and O'Neil are absent and replaced by stars and actors that are apt, though definitely a notch down from what fans may have desired in their leads. The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training certainly fares better than the third film; star William Devane breathes some much needed life into the new Bears manager and (though Matthau is still sorely missed), and Jimmy Baio as the new kid is mildly funny and engaging as a rough and tumble pitcher. Picking up a year after the first film ends, the audience now has a sense of each kid and what they're comedic personalities are. While Kelly Leak was a minor-to-major character in the first film, the second two movies feature him as a prominent lead among the kids. In The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training Kelly learns the value of having a father, and vice versa (everyone say it with me: "Awwwwww!"). But, the movie stumbles out of the gate as we watch many scenes that seem stale and contrived by today's standards. The end ball game is yet again a variation on the "oh no we're losing—wait, we can make a comeback!" formula. Maybe The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training wouldn't have been so bad if had been the last stop on this series' cinematic train. Unfortunately…
The Bad News Bears Go To Japan ends up being the worst of this series. Transplanting the kids and their slick new manager to Japan proves to be a major disappointment for everyone involved (including the audience). By this point the series had gone on far too long—these kids had nowhere to go except maybe the major leagues (and with their detestable baseball skills we certainly knew that wasn't going to happen any time soon). Tony Curtis tries his hardest to play off original The Bad News Bears scribe Bill Lancaster's script, but in the end comes up as just plain desperate (Curtis seems notorious for doing about a million bug-eyed double takes in this movie). By the end of the first half of The Bad News Bears Go To Japan, the kids have all but been ushered out as the story focuses on Marvin's attempts for riches and glory, as well as Kelly Leak's romance with a Japanese geisha girl (I can't believe anyone would go for Leak's ugly mug, but to each his own). Even the baseball game sequences seem to lack any true excitement—I guess there's only so many times you can watch kids whack a ball before it gets extraordinarily stale. Apparently original director Michael Ritchie had some faith in this film since he came back to serve as a producer on the film. Sadly, it was too little, too late. The Bad News Bears Go To Japan is a muddled mess that should be viewed by those determined to see this whole series from start to end. When the three of you finish, let me know so we can swap and compare notes.
If it isn't clear yet, let me say that The Bad News Bears is easily worth your time. With Walter Matthau showing up in a pitch perfect performance, The Bad News Bears is a engaging look at kids, baseball and all he follies in between. The Bad News Bears In Basic Training and The Bad News Bears Go To Japan don't really add much to the proceedings—if anything they're bland afterthoughts to an original and humorous comedy.
The Bad News Bears, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and The Bad News Bears Go To Japan are all presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. All three of The Bad News Bears films span from 1976 to 1978, and these transfers do show their age. While the bulk of the colors and black levels look even and well saturated, there seems to be a softness to the images in all three movies. Out of the three, I felt that The Bad News Bears Go To Japan looked the best, possibly because it's a few years younger than the first film. Each movie sported an excessive amount of grain and dirt, and out of the three The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training was the only film where I spotted overly excessive edge enhancement. On the other hand, I can't really say that all these imperfections hurt my viewing of the films—a little bit of roughness around the edges just seemed to enhance the nostalgic feel of these flicks.
The Bad News Bears is presented in a newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack in English. The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training and The Bad News Bears Go To Japan are both presented in their original Dolby Digital Mono mix (as is The Bad News Bears on a separate audio track). The Bad News Bears' new 5.1 mix is hardly worth screaming about. While there are some instances of surround usage in a few of the scenes (mainly separated in the front and center speaker), these are generally few and far between. During all three films there are instances of distortion in the dialogue, music and effects. I'm guessing that this is due in part to the condition and age of the original source materials. Another problem I spotted was excessively low fidelity in all three films. There were many instances where I really had to strain to hear the dialogue in all three films. Otherwise, these soundtracks are pretty much what you'd expect them to be: mediocre at best. Also included on all three discs are English subtitles.
Strike one: no theatrical trailer. Strike two: not even some measly production notes. Strike three: not one extra feature on any of the discs?!? You're out!
I'm glad that I had the chance to see all three of The Bad News Bears movies. I can't say that I will ever feel the need to watch them again, but it was nice to have a slice of the '70s (bellbottoms and all) if only for a few fun hours. Paramount has put fourth only moderate work on these titles, which is a shame seeing as they were big money makers for the studio. I think it would have been a lot of fun to have heard a commentary track by some of the kids even if it would have been on only the original movie. The transfers and soundtracks on these discs are all passable, though nothing impressive. I'd recommend these as rentals before purchases.
The Bad News Bears is acquitted of all charges, though The Bad News Bears In Basic Training and The Bad News Bears Go To Japan are both guilty of being needless sequels. Paramount is slapped with a major fine for shoddy work on all three of these discs!
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