The Bad News Bears (1976) starring Walter Matthau, Tatum O'Neal, Vic Morrow, Joyce Van Patten, Ben Piazza, Jackie Earle Haley, Gary Lee Cavagnaro directed by Michael Ritchie Movie Review

The Bad News Bears (1976)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Walter Matthau as Coach Buttermaker in The Bad News Bears

The Pitcher may lack Balls but the Bears don't

"The Bad News Bears" is a sports movie about Little League Baseball and like the majority of sports movies it is an underdog story and being about Little League Baseball it's an underdog sports movie featuring a bunch of kids who are not much of a team. As such it would be fair to say that for the most "The Bad News Bears" is not that different to any other sports movie which features a young team of under dogs and their have been plenty of them. But what makes "The Bad News Bears" a bit special is that the outcome is not always clear, it goes to and fro between being predictable and then serving a twist. Plus with some fine acting from Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal it certainly is one of the best of these sorts of movies.

Once a minor league baseball player, Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau - Earthquake) is now a beer loving, cigar smoking swimming pool cleaner who finds himself put in charge of the Bears, a Little League Baseball team with absolutely no talent. Despite not wanting to coach the money he is paid is definitely a sweetener even when the children absolutely detest him. But after a humiliating loss in their first game to the Yankees, Buttermaker decides to do what he can and whilst improving the team's skills he also recruits Amanda Whurlitzer (Tatum O'Neal), a young girl with a great pitching arm, and the rebellious Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley). With some talent and skills things start to change for the Bears and with the final game of the season against their rivals the Yankees it looks like they maybe able to avenge them.

Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal in The Bad News Bears

For anyone who has watched the more recent "Might Ducks" the storyline will be recognizable. We have a former baseball player begrudgingly taking over a team of misfit children who are terrible and slowly helps to turn the team around, recruiting a couple of decent players. And of course the new coach goes through a transformation themself from being someone who doesn't care to someone who does. As such there is a familiarity to "The Bad News Bears" and along the way there are what are now cliche elements as a trouble making kid is recruited and the team start to improve as they learn a few skills.

But whilst there is a lot which is predictable about "The Bad News Bears" what makes it stand out is that it keeps you guessing what the final outcome will be. Of course the team will have bonded and the coach will have changed but where as normally long before the big final game everything is in place for a crowd pleasing win for the underdogs in "The Bad News Bears" it's not all so clear cut. As such when the big game comes against their arch rivals the Yankees you still have the coach not fully having changed his ways and you are not sure whether or not it will be an underdog win. It makes "The Bad News Bears" a much better movie and easily one of the best when it comes to these types of movies.

What also helps is that Walter Matthau is brilliant as Coach Buttermaker, playing scenes for comedy effect but never over doing it. So when we have him bawling out the kids it is funny but also has a dramatic impact as does his constant boozing. It is a clever performance from Matthau because he makes us like Buttermaker but realise that he is a flawed man who has a lot of issues in his life to change. And Tatum O'Neal is perfect as the feisty Amanda Whurlitzer who he brings in to the team. The interactions between the two are some of the best moments in the movie and it is a very adult performance from the young O'Neal.

But Matthau and O'Neal are not alone in putting in good performances and every one of the child stars delivers exactly what is needed from Jackie Earle Haley as rebellious kid Kelly Leak through to Gary Lee Cavagnaro who plays the chocolate loving Engelberg.

What this all boils down to is that "The Bad News Bears" maybe over 30 years old but it still remains one of the best of these child orientated underdog stories. It is quite predictable but unlike so many similar movies manages to keep you guessing and with good performances from Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal it is so much fun to watch.

Tags: Baseball Movies