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THE BAD NEWS BEARS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, Vic Morrow, Jackie Earle Haley
Director:  Michael Ritchie
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  None
Length:  101 Minutes
Release Date:  February 12, 2002

“Come on, fellows.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

“Yeah, it took several hundred years.”

Film ***1/2

When The Bad News Bears first appeared, I was seven years old and in little league for the first time, and I don’t think a movie has ever coincided with my own personal experiences quite as well ever again!

Actually, I didn’t see it for a couple of years, when it first appeared on TV, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.  My jaw dropped in awe of this rag-tag group of kids…did they actually get away with talking to adults that way?  Sure, we all used curse words in our own private circles, but hell, never in front of authority figures…these guys were instantly heroic to me!

Of course, authority figure is a very loose term for would-be coach Morris Buttermaker (Matthau…who else could have played the role, I ask you?).  He’s a boozing, unapologetic, middle-aged bum who takes on the job of coaching the Bears for a measly quick buck.  The Bears exist as the league’s odd seventh team, and is made up entirely of those kids who didn’t have the talent to be picked for one of the others!

After opening day, when the Bears never even get to bat, it seems like a lost cause.  But the embittered Buttermaker starts learning a thing or two about not giving up along the way…even better, he teaches it to the kids.  He makes a couple of unusual additions to the line-up.  Amanda (O’Neal) is a young girl with a vicious fastball and a wicked curve, and Kelly (Haley) is the wrong-side-of-the-tracks kid that nobody wants, which makes him a perfect fit for the Bears…he may be a delinquent, but he can throw, hit and field like nobody’s business…only fitting that the boozing, cigar smoking Buttermaker would be the first coach to give him a chance.

This movie created a formula for kids’ sports movies that has been mimicked many times, but never duplicated (even by the spirited but weak attempts at sequels and the short-lived TV series in 1979).  Every time you see a hopeless group of untalented, smart mouthed little kids with a loser coach that at first hates each other, then learns to trust and love one another, you have to remember the Bears, and remember their movie did it first, and much better.  Though chances are, you won’t hear a kid sum up a team the way Tanner does in this picture, using a string of words I can’t reproduce here…you have to hear them for yourself!

Of all the kids, I think I liked Tanner the best…like a small dog, he was the littlest runt with the biggest mouth, and thought he was the toughest of the tough.  He’s always picking fights with those who could easily beat the crap out of him, sometimes in defense of teammates he doesn’t even really like…you gotta love the guy.

I also remember vividly the crush I had on Tatum O’Neal.  Hey, I was a little tyke, but this blonde, cute-faced 11 year old broke my tender heart repeatedly…she could have pitched for my Tadpole League team any day of the week.

Even more, though, I remember my hatred for Yankees coach Turner (Morrow).  He was the epitome of everything bad about grown-up’s involvement in kids’ sports, spewing a win-at-all-cost attitude that made him the precursor of every bad news article we’ve read in the last couple of decades about obnoxious parents who put their children through hell for the sake of a game that’s supposed to be fun.  What he does to his own kid in front of everybody during the championship game is a moment I’ve never forgotten, nor have I ever forgotten the boy’s ultimate (bleep)-you response to his father immediately afterwards.  To this day, Turner is one of the movie characters I hate the most, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s why I grew up loathing the Yankees!

But the movie’s real strength is its lack of sappiness.  True, there are some tender and feel-good moments along the way, but the picture earns the right to have them by never shirking from the more unpleasant aspects of the characters.  Buttermaker has to win our trust and confidence as much as he does the Bears, and he digs himself a big hole to crawl out of with his blatant alcoholism and obviously bad disciplinary habits.  He has his unflattering moments along the way, but the movie doesn’t pretend that good coaches are made overnight.  One could argue that even by film’s end, he still has a long way to go…but at least he came a long way in the process.

In other words, the movie is about characters who are endearing in spite of their flaws, and that’s what makes their appeal so long-lasting.  I can’t remember one kid’s name in The Mighty Ducks or Hardball, which is barely a year old…but a quarter of a century later, I always remembered Tanner, Engleberg, Ahmad, Kelly, and Amanda.  I even remembered Buttermaker.  That’s the best possible praise.

Video ***

Paramount offers a quality anamorphic transfer that looks like it may have gotten a hint or two of restoration along the way…the colors are brighter and more vibrant than I remember, and images are generally clean, sharp and well presented.  There are a few minor moments of softness hear and there, or an occasional spot or blemish on the print, but they are relatively few…overall, I think fans of the film will be most pleased with the effort.

Audio **1/2

Though re-mixed for 5.1 surround, don’t expect too much from the audio…dialogue is clean and clear, and the front stage enjoys some good panning effects here and there, but the subwoofer remains all but inert until the final musical cue, and if the rear stage was harnessed at all, it was barely noticeable.  An improvement over the original mono, to be sure, but not a whole lot more…still an enjoyable offering, though.

Features (zero stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

The Bad News Bears is the original and still the best.  It broke ground that has never quite been duplicated…in fact, in today’s age of political correctness, only softer and weaker imitations are even possible.  It may not be right for your kids, but give the disc a spin and decide for yourself which you’d rather show them…an inflated rip-off with no guts, or a lean, funny, gritty original that became its year’s surprise box office hit?  Personally, I still think the Bears mean bad news for all the other wannabe movies.