Pair this with The Bad News Bears and Paper Lion, and Judge Paul Corupe says you have a Wizard of Oz/sports movie trifecta.
Get ready for major league fun!
Hey, remember those misfit baseball brats The Bad News Bears and how they melted our icy hearts by pulling together and making it to the championship game? Well, apparently Here Come the Tigers's Sean S. Cunningham does too, because this early copycat flick from the future Friday the 13th director is a dumb drive-in rip-off of Michael Ritchie's classic kiddie sports flick. From hopeless little leaguers learning self-confidence, to the dastardly coaching techniques of competitive parents, and even (God help us!) the classical music score, the only real difference between these two films is that while viewers was eventually charmed by the Bears' tenacity and individual accomplishments, nobody, but nobody, has ever cared about The Tigers.
Facts of the Case
When the local police captain goes clinically insane, small town beat cop Eddie Burke (Richard Lincoln) and his partner Burt (James Zvanut) take over the job of coaching his little league team, a ragtag group of youngsters that includes tomboy Kathy (Kathy Bell), bully Timmy (Todd Weeks), perpetual nose picker Roger (Michael Pastore), pint-sized tough guy Peanut (Sean's son Noel Cunningham), motor-mouth Fritz (David Schmalholz), chronic flatulence factory Art (Sean P. Griffin), self-styled ladies man Mike (Max McClellan), and the nerdy Eaglescout Terwilliger (Kevin Moore). Realizing that the team is worse than hopeless on the diamond, the new coach launches a plan of action to take them to the top, first recruiting car vandal Buster (Xavier Rodrigo), an 11-year-old delinquent who Eddie takes into his home to keep the well-meaning kid out of juvenile hall. Then, he gets a hot tip on a new-in-town power batter (and karate expert) Umeki (Ted Oyama), and later, during a routine police call, stumbles across hearing-impaired ace hurler Danny Mayfield (Philip Scuderi). As the new and improved Tigers climb up the standings, they're targeted by current league titleholders The Panthers, who use Danny's pitching arm as a punching bag the night before the championship game.
Hitting theatres the same year as the Bad News Bears franchise petered out with its Japan-set third installment, Here Come the Tigers is a heartless—even cynical—take on the Cinderella sports team cliché that amounts to one big cinematic strike out. As you might expect, Cunningham's imitative baseball epic is by-the-numbers filmmaking at its most blatant, with so many echoes of the original Bad News Bears film that it could almost pass as a remake. There are no surprises in Here Come the Tigers at all—everything you think might happen eventually does: the embarrassing practices, the humiliating season opener and the coach's heartfelt speech about teamwork are all present and accounted for, and they quickly give way to the predictable scene in which the current champs are exposed as smug cheaters, followed by a bases loaded, "it all comes down to this pitch" finale.
And yet, despite its similarities, Here Come the Tigers is a pale copy at best—mostly because it's stocked with underwritten, unlikable tykes that fail to garner any audience sympathy. Though they certainly match the Bears' propensity for mouthing off to their elders, the farting, booger-slinging Tigers are far more obnoxious, and their marked lack of character development over the course of the season gives us no reason to cheer for them when we get to the big game. As opposed to working hard and overcoming adversity, these kids merely cruise along on the talents of Umeki and Danny, and not a lesson is learned by anyone, not even lifeless Coach Eddie and his bumbling assistant Burt. As with The Bad News Bears, which has a subplot about Buttermaker reconnecting with his daughter, this film also reaches for the heartstrings as Eddie becomes Buster's surrogate father and assumedly steers him away from a life of crime, but Cunningham forgets to follow through by showing us any positive result of young punk's little league rehabilitation. He even drops the ball on an obvious opportunity for Buster's real parents to forget the rocky past and reunite to their son in teary-eyed admiration of his newfound love for baseball—instead, we get Buster barely improving his sorry batting average and a credits scroll seconds after the final score is posted. How's that for closure?
Not to be outdone, the scenes on the baseball diamond are pretty lacking as well. Every time a player gets a hit, we see a tight close-up of the batter's determined face and hear the off-screen crack of wood against rawhide, and then it's a quick cut to the ball already in mid-flight—a deceptive, though transparent, editing technique that makes each game feel completely artificial. Worse, Cunningham is not above playing fast and loose with the rules of the game to satisfy the melodrama quotient of his plot, even altering a previously established batting order to accommodate the final game's big moment.
Strike three: the film is just not funny. James Zvanut's nerdy patrolman Burt engages in some of the most shameful slapstick this side of a John Ritter pratfall, while the kids ham it up with one note jokes about room-clearing farts or the inability to get a date with all the depth of a Garbage Pail Kid trading card. Oh, and don't miss the sped-up, Benny Hill-esque chase sequence, or the never-ending montages of fielding errors punctuated with gratuitous slide whistle.
The DVD for the film, released by MGM/Sony, looks pretty good considering the fact that Here Come the Tigers is obviously a very low-budget flick. There's only one incidence of print damage noticeable, but it's pretty late in the film, and most viewers probably would have given up on the film by then. Sound quality is likewise passable, a rather flat Dolby Digital 2.0 mono that is always audible. Mercifully, no extras have been included beyond promotional trailers for several new releases.
Kiddie sports films are without doubt an extremely formulaic breed, but at least efforts like Little Giants and The Mighty Ducks managed to capture a little of the heart behind The Bad News Bears, if not its messages about winning and losing. On the other hand Here Come the Tigers is so inept that it has no time for actually depicting the team spirit it gives lip service to—it's a rushed, cash-in job that should have been put on the disabled list before spring training.
Yer outta there!
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