The offseason can be tough on baseball fans. Why not get your baseball fix through the Silver Screen? All offseason long, check out “Friday Flicks” at lunchtime for a baseball movie review. Want to suggest a movie for review? Comment below with the title.
The Bad News Bears (1976) stars Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, and Vic Morrow in a classic plot that brings together a group of misfits who try for a Little League worst to first transformation.
Coach Morris Buttermaker (Matthau) is a former minor league player who spends his days cleaning pools and guzzling beer. For an under the table fee, he agrees to coach a ragtag baseball team of preteens who are only playing in the elite league because they won a lawsuit. As one might predict, the team is made up of the scrawny kids, an overweight catcher, the uncoordinated stats guy (who could be a precursor to the sabermetrician of today), and the loners who aren’t “cool” enough to be accepted somewhere else.
The season begins in disaster, but Buttermaker begins to have enough pride in his work and enough investment in the players to try to fix the team. The requisite ridiculously talented girl and outcast bad boy, who happens to be a phenomenal baseball player, both join the team and lead the Cinderella journey to the championship game.
The plot isn’t unique, as it has been used over the years in a variety of films and across sports teams. (Think Little Giants or The Mighty Ducks.) However, it has a zip in it that isn’t present in many other movies that use the same cookie-cutter plot. It might be the era in which it was made, which was not yet concerned about politically correct humor. At one point in the movie, (actually, I believe, two points) one of the pre-teen players uses a string of ethnic slurs that almost made me fall out of my chair. And the cavalier way that drunken driving is “frowned upon” in the movie would not pass the censors’ test in a light-hearted film today. But, that extra zip also comes from clever lines and a few really good young actors. Of note, Tatum O’Neal (Amanda), Chris Barnes (Tanner), Jackie Earle Haley (Kelly), and Erin Blunt (Ahmad) deliver lines with timing that seems beyond their age and experience.
Is it a hit? I give it a double: While the plot is predictable, it is an enjoyable, light-hearted film that is a great “feel good” baseball movie…especially for Minnesota Twins fans, who desperately need something in baseball to “feel good” about.
Note: The Bad News Bears was remade in 2005, but I have not reviewed it. I’ve heard that it is not as good as the original, but maybe you’ll disagree. If you have seen either version, feel free to comment below with your own review. The movie also spawned a brief television series and two sequels.
Come back next Friday for a review of a recent baseball documentary that features Minnesota’s top Dominican prospects.