Sunday, July 8, 2012

FTT Movie Review: The Bad News Bears

Second Place My Ass
New to Netflix Instant, and finally, it's the original subversive 1976 version with Walter Matthau, Tatum O'Neal and Jackie Earle Haley, and the curious thing is just how well it's held up after 35 odd years, and what's completely been left behind. In its day, the film had serious heat for its foul-mouthed little kids (Chris Barnes as Tanner Boyle, the Billy Martin-esque over-the-top racist pepperpot, is the true star on this front), and hints of undereaged drinking and sexuality (O'Neal loses a bet, and has to go on a date, in an attempt to get Haley on the team in the first place).

I remember, as a child, desperately wanting to see this movie, and eventually getting my way with a televised version that censored some of the language. It also completely entered the vernacular and public consciousness, with references in my Little League and MLB broadcasts, and assuming you are of a certain age, it's pretty much impossible to have not seen this. But its the casual points of the movie, little plot or lifestyle points, that I mostly forgot at the time.

Such as the train wreck moment, and heart of the film, where the antagonist's son and pitcher gets slapped in public, then purposefully takes a 4-base error on a held ball to stick it to his father.

In a movie filled with era incongruities (O'Neal's character not being able to take ballet classes with kids, Haley and O'Neal riding on motorcycles without helmets, Matthau driving around a convertible filled with kids while drinking and not wearing seat belts the obvious alcoholism of Matthau, and the racial and homophobic insults)... there's still nothing more over the top than a coach hitting a kid so hard that he goes to the ground, then walking back to the dugout like nothing horrifying has happened. It's hard to remember an era where hitting your kids was a good idea in public, let alone in a well-attended event with dozens of adults on the premises. And then once the kid leaves the field, dropping the ball rather than handing it over, and walking off into the parking lot, presumably never to see his father again... and the dad just turns the page, along with every kid and spectator.

Anyway... BNB is an honest 100-minute time capsule that's refreshingly free of sports movie tropes like slow motion, over the top camera theatrics and special effects, and with an actual moral center that still holds up. Watching Matthau become a "winner", then come back to his senses and avoid the winning at all costs ethos... it works. And it always well. So the movie is still worth a spin, even if it's not as over-the-top revolutionary as it once was.

Oh, and like nearly all movies that go to sequels, it's completely fine to just ignore the second and third movies. Please.

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