Friday, September 02, 2005

The Bad News Bears

1976, US, directed by Michael Ritchie

As the Bad News Bears sequels showed, kids drinking beer and swearing might be funny, but you need a skilled curmudgeon as a foil, and they don't come much more skilled, or more curmudgeonly, than Walter Matthau; he doesn't have to do anything at all, and yet he still seems ornery. For a film about, and enjoyed by, kids, it's striking how his flaws are never glossed over. Matthau's Morris Buttermaker has a mean streak almost to the end, and yet he still manages to achieve a kind of redemption not so much by softening his heart but by aligning himself with the kids against the adult world, handing out beers to his Little League team - to parental consternation. It's a kind of Roald Dahl take on the world, where the rest of the adults are dimissed as stuffed shirts or as malevolent presences (the opposing coach, for example, who slaps his own son). Several of the kids - most of whom never really acted again, outside the Bad News Bears series - acquit themselves well, while Tatum O'Neal is pretty convincing as the ballsy, twelve-year-old female version of Matthau (she didn't make many good movies, but she was at her best working opposite an adult actor). Michael Ritchie was reaching the end of a fairly fertile period in 1976, although this film doesn't have the political overtones of his other work: in his professional hands, the movie remains far more coherent than many a juvenile feature, while his directorial reins are still loose enough to allow for amusing comic bits, especially from the feisty, profane second baseman.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States