on February 7, 2001
The great Walter Matthau (all saggy jowls) plays Buttermaker, an ex-pitcher turned pool cleaner who tools around all day on his jobs in a chop-top station wagon with a cooler of beer in the backseat. A local businessman talks (with money) Buttermaker into coaching a youth-league team of castaways. Seems this is one community that takes its youth league baseball seriously. A little too seriously.
What follows is the familiar plot of a bunch of underdog kids coming together as the "Team Nobody Believed In" and contending for the championship against a team that represents everything that's wrong when parents spoil simple pleasures for their children (the Yankees, coached by Vic Morrow, in a neatly-observed performance). Look, I don't know if "Bears" even did it first, but this movie certainly does it best, and without the labored sentimentality of its progeny.
"Bears" never turns cartoonish. It captures just the right atmosphere- slanting, late afternoon sunlight during the games, the bikes parked behind the dugouts, the post-game chants. The kids, led by Tatum O'Neal and Jackie Earle Haley all perform well, and each has a sharply defined personality. Even Morrow, as Buttermaker's antagonist, isn't portrayed as bad or evil- just a guy with misplaced priorities that make him act like a jerk.
But Matthau makes this movie, conning kids into making martinis for him and cleaning pools while he regales them with increasingly drunken stories of his baseball glory days... until he passes out on the mound in a litter of beer cans. Matthau plays Buttermaker as a modern day loser who discovers (eventually) he still has a better nature.
Bright, smart and funny, "The Bad News Bears" is a joy to watch, full of quick-witted exchanges and even heartbreak. If you've seen one too many "Mighty Ducks" flicks, do yourself a favor and watch this one. It goes down as smooth as one of Buttermaker's ice cold ones on a hot afternoon.
And look for that kid who played Eddie in "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" as Morrow's son and the Yankees' star pitcher. He has a ballpark epiphany that's true and heartbreaking. Just another aspect of this marvelous little movie.
on July 26, 2004
Studios would never risk making such a hard edged kiddie flick! Here we have a posse of little cretins that act like real kids, obnoxious, bratty, foul mouthed, and selfish. These kids hurl racial epithets and get slapped down by their overly competitive or alcohol abusing coaches and fathers. Matthau drives the kids around while drinking whiskey laced beer. Do not let the PG rating fool you. In other words, it's a little too close to reality for modern white washed sensitivities and has nary a trace of the sentimentality that permeates other kiddie fare. So, if you want a non offensive boring piece of trash to watch with the family, I suggest you look at the list of lame imitators, such as Little Giants, Mighty Ducks, the Sandlot, or Little Big League.
The Bad News Bears is great! When kids are allowed to act like real kids, they can be pretty convincing. The humor is derived from watching the kids deal with each other or watching Matthau deal with their exasperating antics. And it has quite a number of actually touching moments, as when loud mouthed little Tanner sticks up for Lupus, or when Matthau coaxes Ahmad out of a tree after a particularly poor performance on the field, and of course, when both coaches lose their cool in the dugout during the final game. (Parents can learn lessons from this flick as well).
So, if you have not seen this since you were a kid, check it out, there was a lot more going on than you remember, and if you are an adult wondering if you should let your eight year old see it, go for it. I turned out alright!
on February 23, 2005
Even movies about a bunch of pre-adolescent ballplayers were better in the 70s. This is possibly one of the best "kids movies" of all time ... if you like an unsentimental, raw look at how kids really are. No glossy cinematography here, the Bears stands as a testament to the truth of kids lives. Not all perfect angels or demons, kids are more complex than we give them credit. Sadly, this truth seems to stop with this film; "The Bad News Bears" is an anomaly rather than a groundbreaker.
We never see the kids at home, or with their families except for some brief snippets at the very end; the film exists only on the playing field and the dugouts. Matthau is simply wonderful as a gruff drunk who doesn't suddenly become loveable in a bland burst of generic orchestral mediocrity -- kudos to the filmmakers for incorporating the score to Carmen throughout the entire film.
Vic Morrow shines in a supporting role that embodies the cutthroat world of American Little League (and sadly the movie made me ask, does everything about America have to be so cutthroat?) and Morrow's performance is eerily true-to-life of all the sports parents and coaches out there who are more into the game than the kids. Watch for the tense stand-off scene between Morrow and Brandon Cruz.
The Bears went on to sully their legacy with two less than stellar sequels and a short lived TV series but this original film is worth holding onto.
I saw "The Bad News Bears"in the theatre, when it came out in 1976. At the tender age of thirteen, I thought this was a hilarious send up of little league and organized sports. Now over twenty five years later, I still laugh out loud at the DVD version of the film, which has both biting moments and a lot of heart.The plot has now been endlessly copied by dozens of other movies.Walter Matthau plays an aging alcoholic, who is payed by a local politician to coach a little league team made up of misfits and losers.They are hopelessly bad players, who are dumped on by both other kids and adults alike.Through Mathau's drunken coaching and the help of an eleven year old girl with a killer curve ball (wonderfully played by Tatum O'neal) the team rises to the top of the stats and the big championship game. The late director, Michael Ritchie used this fairly simple plot device to present us with a scewering of the world of children's organized sports and a satire of suburban society in general.I love the scene where at the league party a female official presents a pizza made up with toppings to look like a ball field.She goes on to explain how she couldn't use anchovies in the presentation "but hey, not many people like anchovies".The film has many funny moments such as this, but it also carries a dark underbelly when it presents how serious the parents take games that are suppose to be fun and put their kids under a tremendous amount of pressure.It's hard to even watch a scene, in which an opposing team's coach, in the heat of game, goes out to the pitcher's mound and slaps his own son in the face.I don't mean to paint too dark of a picture of this movie. It is a really funny film. But under all the slapstick comedic moments that the film provides, Ritchie has something to say about how we treat our kids, that rings as true today (in the age of soccer moms) as it did over twenty five years ago.Matthau and O'neal are both excellent. The film has great supporting performances from actors Vic Morrow and Joyce Van Patton.Some of the stand out juvenile actors include Alfred Lutter, Jackie Earle Haley and Brandon Cruz.The script is smart and funny and makes us care about the characters.The movie is also an anthropological treasure trove of suburban America circa 1976 showing us such '70s fads as air hockey, hip hugger french jeans and mini bikes.The film has a very retro look.I highly reccomend this movie to both adults and older kids alike.
on April 12, 2004
Don't listen to other reviewers who impose today's political correctness on a movie that came out in 1976. My parents took me to see this film when it came out (I was nine) and it was a good film. It has lessons about winning, losing and sportsmanship. It touches upon characters we all know: the winning coach (played wonderfully by the late Vic Morrow) who values winning above all else - even his own son. A realistic film from the 1970s, reflecting divorced parents, precocious kids, bullies, all of it is in here. Above all, it is a positive statement about self-respect and accomplishment. While Matthau's ways of coaching would probably be protested today (i.e., giving the kids beer after the final game of the season) it was seen as true to his character and one of the funny touches. Some of the material is mature but it may spark some positive conversations in a family. It isn't watered down, squeaky-clean family fare that people expect today, but it does have a good message and is fun. Excellent performances by a great cast, realistic baseball playing (sometimes painful) and great moments. A classic 1970s film that is often overlooked.
on October 27, 2002
"The Bad News Bears" is truly one of the greatest sports movies ever made. It's also one the most popular kids movies ever made. As a result of this success, its plot has been copied and redone by numerous imitators- "The Mighty Ducks," "Little Giants," and several others. However, this original still stands tall over its numerous copycats.
"The Bad News Bears" is about an ultra competitive southern California Little League which has been forced by a lawsuit to allow any child who wants to play into the league. The league complies with the letter of the settlement, but not its spirit by placing all the kids, who would not have made the league under its old rules, onto a single team- the Bears. The Bears get the players nobody wants- a pitcher whose throws don't make it to homeplate, an overweight, foodaholic catcher, a foulmouthed runt, a black Muslim, two very small Mexican Americans, a junior George F. Will (who is a great fan of baseball, but can't play a lick), the son of the city councilman who brought the lawsuit, and a total basketcase named Timmy Lupus. The Bears also get stuck with Buttermaker, an ex-minor league pitcher turned near alcoholic, swimming pool cleaner as their manager.(Walter Matthau.)
The Bears, of course, are a terrible team and Buttermaker's lack of interest in helping them improve just adds to their wretchedness. League officials and the other teams revel in the humiliations heaped upon the Bears, who had dared to challenge this league's rules. However, Buttermaker starts to realize that by turning this team of misfits into winners he can actually make himself feel better about his life. Therefore, he goes out and recruits some ringers- the daughter of an ex-girlfriend to whom he taught all his old pitching tricks and the local juvenile delinquent who just happens to be the best player in the area. Also, the Bears actually had some talent. Thus, with their ringers playing terrifically and their untalented kids relegated to the bench, the Bears start to move up in the standings. Eventually, they meet the league's most talented and arrogant team, the Yankees (who else?), in the championship game.
In the championship game, Buttermaker will realize that the Bears are not playing to make him feel good about himself, but that they are kids just trying to have fun. Watching the manager of the Yankees berate and bully his players, Buttermaker realizes that his own desire to win is ruining the enjoyment of playing for his ballplayers. Buttermaker makes a decision to ensure that the entire purpose of the Bears (that everyone who wants to play can play) will be fulfilled in this game.
"The Bad News Bears" triumphs as a movie because of the winning performances of the kids, who were mostly played by total unknowns. These young actors really capture what it's like to be an 11-12 yr old boy- one moment full of cocky bravado and the next an easily discouraged child. This movie also has an ending which is very similar to the end of the original "Rocky." Like Rocky, the protagonists do not come out on top as to the final score, but it is they, not the champions, who celebrate in style in the end. Like Rocky Balboa, the Bears win respect and dignity, but they also had fun doing it.
on January 23, 2008
I saw the Bad News Bears back in the 70s, when I was a kid. Just recently I've been watching it again, for what must be the first time in about 31 years(yikes). Well, apparently, back when I was a kid, all the things in the movie seemed perfectly normal and healthy. The 70s'll do that to a child. See, what people who object to the movie's profanity, crude innuendoes about the sex life of an eleven-year-old girl (Played by Tatum O'Neal, who casually informs the coach that she knows some eleven-year-olds who are on the pill) racial slurs (a kid that looks like he's seven, who has a real toilet mouth on him, at one point complains that the team is full of, "n*ggers, sp*cks, jews, and a spaz") and the coach's obvious serious drinking problem, which leads him to spike his Budweiser with Jim Beam sitting in his car in the little league parking lot in the first scene, which leads to him getting a light for his cigar from a twelve-year-old delinquent ("thanks, mister") who himself is to be found chain-smoking throughout the movie... as I say, what anyone who objects to these things must keep in mind is that the 70s were a very different time. A strange time. A depressing time. A time when heavy smoking and drinking were not stigmatized as they are today. A time when having a car-load of kids sitting on the rear hood as you swerve down the road while drinking a beer was not demonized as it is in these excessively prohibitionist times. The movie must be seen as a message from another, much grittier, much more dangerous, but somehow depressing rather than exhilarating time. Anyone who was a kid in the 70s never really gets out of it. Because the 70s are a Witch Mountain you never fully escape from, even though you've got that guy who looks like Uncle Bill from Family Affair helping you. I think I can speak for anyone who was a kid in the 1970s when I say that in my mind there's a Bicentennial Celebration still going on. And Evel Knievel is still jumping his rocket motorcycle over the Snake River Canyon. And K.C. and the Sunshine Band is still playing. I don't think anybody who wasn't a kid in the 70s can know what it was like to be there in that corner of time and space in the world. To watch Starsky and Hutch and take it quite seriously. To read Ramona the Brave - where Ramona's dad was unemployed and then finally gloriously got a job as a bag boy at the supermarket. To not bat an eye about any of this. To worry about the twin plagues of the metric system and the killer bees that were both on their way over, inexorably, and would someday get here and combine... if they didn't get lost in the Bermuda Triangle on the way. Well, I guess the metric system did.
So like I say, though I might want to leave the 70s, the 70s are like that crystal from outer space that steals your mind. And though, like Logan, I want to bust out of that mall and find my way to Peter Ustinov, I know that I never will. Because I just can't make sense of it. I can't make any sense of it at all. And until I can do that, until I can fathom what the 70s meant and what they stood for... I can never really leave. Maybe tomorrow... tomorrow... tomorrow... I'l go to Control Data Institute and talk to IRAC and see if he can help me find a way out.
on April 15, 2003
A great movie that hits it mark..unfortunately sprung two terrible sequels. THE BAD NEWS BEARS is a social commentary about when kids are taken out of the sandlot (which is more fun when kids are left to play among themselves) and organized by adults to play little league baseball and the result is chaos. Walter Matthau in one of his signature roles as coach Buttermaker (he even reprised the role in a parody of the film on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, in the now classic and hilarious BAD NEWS BEES sketch). Matthau is hilarious as the drunken, ex-big league ballplayer/pool cleaner hired by one of the parents to coach a bunch of losers in a competetive and elite Los Angeles little league organization. The kids are innocent, but honestly brutal in their depiction. Standout performances from Jackie Earl Haley (BREAKING AWAY)as Kelly Leak, the motorcycle riding punk who is also a great athlete, Chris Barnes as tough little Tanner Boyle (who supposedly takes on the whole seventh grade when he is humilated in the embarrassing first game loss), and of course Tatum O'Neal as the tough girl pitcher whose curve ball breaks 2 feet. All this works on a level of a family movie, but some situations are adult oriented. Watch the film on network television and it is butchered beyond recognition. On DVD and cable, it it way better because you see why some of the situations occur. One example is the scene when pitcher Joey Turner (Brandon Cruz -tv's COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER) throws at the head of batter Engelberg (Gary Lee Cavagnaro) and you'll know why. Actor Vic Morrow continues his string of bad guy roles even in this film as Coach Roy Turner and even the Yankees (a metaphor for elitistism) is used as a name of one of the teams as the arch rival of the Bears. Overall, entertaining and authentic with great casting.
on December 2, 2015
Good News: The cast is talented and storytelling is satisfying. It is sometimes hilarious, and other times genuinely touching. It sometimes succeeds at giving an authentic view of how some kids were in the 70’s. It sometimes succeeds at satirizing the damage that self-centered parents can do when their kids play ball. I never enjoyed “Carmen” as much as I did after hearing it in this film. Bad News: In some respects, it hasn’t aged well. Looking at the self-destructive tendencies of Coach Buttermaker through the prism of scandals like the Sandusky scandal, makes the film less funny. As someone who played youth league ball in the 70’s, I notice that a significant minority of kids is completely ignored. Some of us didn’t fit into any of the categories that the film shows. I’m used to that, and I’ve come to terms with the reality that some losers and misfits are more equal than others. On the basis of my experience, though, I can say that the film often romanticizes the attitudes and actions of 70’s kids. Some of the film’s unpleasantness has been praised as authenticity, honesty and a refreshing complexity. There is some truth to this, but the film sometimes isn’t so much revealing as reveling. It glosses over the dark side of some of the bears’ attitudes and habits. As just one example, we almost never see the bears at home. For me the pros outweigh the cons and make the film worthwhile, but-be warned-this film has heaping helpings of profanity, racial epithets, vulgarity, kids gambling and smoking and alcoholism as fodder for humor.
on May 3, 2015
While "Rocky" was about an athlete overcoming obstacles to pursue a dream, "The Natural" centered on an older man's comeback in professional sports, and "Jerry McGuire" told a story of transcendence between a sports agent and his fiery unpredictable client, "The Bad News Bears" focused much more on organic down-to-earth issues. Aside from films derived from real-life true stories, such as "42", "Hoosiers", and "Rudy", "The Bad News Bears" may be the most poignant fictional sports film ever produced. "The Bears" deals with prejudice, inequality, injustice, racism, and obsession, on one hand, while simultaneously searching and finding acceptance, bridge-building, and determination. Yet, the characters and setting are so real, the dialog so true-to-life, you don't realize you're being offered these larger ideas. They just emerge from the plight of the characters. Who knows whether or not the filmmakers were setting out to make a social statement, but they did which is the mark of a truly great story.
The essential plot is pretty basic. A group of junior high school age baseball misfits are thrown together to play on a team called "The Bears". They only have one thing in common: they are, for the most part, terrible. They can't pitch, they can't bat, and they can't field. To add insult to injury they are not the most endearing group of kids but rather a bunch of undisciplined and foul-mouthed adolescents who could give characters played by Robert Deniro and Joe Pesci a run for their money. Walter Matthau, in one of his best performances since "The Odd Couple", plays Morris Buttermaker, a swimming pool cleaner who is asked by a City Councilman to coach this team of athletically challenged oddballs. The Councilman had filed a lawsuit against the city because the Little League was excluding players with less ability, and the Bears team was the city's "restitution", allowing a bunch of less-skilled kids a chance to play the game.
What makes the film as good as it is has to do with the characters of the players as much as Matthau as Buttermaker. These kids were literally ripped right out of reality, and seem so similar to the kids I played with when I was of junior high age that it's almost scary. I can't name them all, but I offer a few of the ones which stick in my mind. In no particular oder: Toby, son of the councilman, who's probably the most vocal of the kids, Ogilvie, the most intellectual of the boys but not the best player, Amanda, their best pitcher and the only female in the league, Kelly, the trouble-maker who smokes and rides a Harley but is an amazing outfielder and hitter, Tanner, my favorite character, the shortest but craziest of the team who would give Napoleon Bonaparte a run for his money when he takes on the entire 7th grade. He defends Lupus against some bullies at one point in the film. Lupus is perhaps the worst player on the team and shows little knowledge of social decorum. At first Tanner and the others are put-off by Lupus, but at one point the team appreciates him.
At first, there seems little hope for this group of unskilled oddballs when they're slaughtered during their first game. However, as the film progresses we learn more about the characters and how they start to pull for one another. Several of the Bears are either dismissed or harassed at various moments in the story, and the teammates begin to learn to stick up for one another, both on and off the field. As a result they slowly begin to play better. Even Buttermaker changes during the story. At first he's not the best coach, but he starts to see things in his players the other teams around the league don't see. We also witness the obsession and over-zealousness of the parents, whose attitude becomes more about the kids winning than simply experiencing the game. In the climactic final game, Buttermaker makes a realization which is as profound as any in sports films of this type.
This is just an incredible story which says much more about modern culture, particularly about young people, then it may have set out to do. The dialog seems like it was derived right out of a junior high school baseball diamond. While most child characters speak dialog which is unrelated to their age and experience, the script of the Bad News Bears must have come from the mouths of babes, literally. I imagine the screenwriters must have spent time at actual Little League games and written down the dialog. The ending is one of the best in all of sports films, and it is not only completely believable but it fits with the rhetoric of the entire film. An absolute breath of fresh air, especially if you're tired of those fictional sports films where you can guess the outcome.