Although remembered and billed as a comedy, there’s little to laugh about in this cult film, despite starring one of the greatest actors in cinema, Walter Matthau.
Matthau plays a former minor league baseball player who is now a washed-up alcoholic. He’s hired to coach a youth team that comprises of assorted misfit kids who don’t know one end of the bat from the other. After a humiliating loss in their first game, he tracks down a former protégé of his (Tatum O’Neal) and a local lout (Jackie Earle Haley), who usually spends his time aggravating the grown-ups. Thanks to these youngsters, the team make it to the championship final against the uber-competitive Yankees team, coached by Vic Morrow.
There’s no denying there’s a lot of heart in The Bad News Bears, it’s been celebrated as a classic for years and was a box office smash when it was released. Unfortunately, the mean-spirited nature of Matthau’s beer-swilling, cigar-chomping character for the majority of the running time and the abuse metered out by Morrow’s aggressive, win-at-all-costs coach is at odds with what should be a feel-good outsiders-do-good story. O'Neal is as brilliant as she was in Paper Moon several years earlier and just as precocious is Haley, who of course later went on to appear in 2009's Watchmen.
There’s still plenty to enjoy if you can overlook the outdated language and attitudes and the movie still a boasts large fan base. Scott Harrison’s commentary on the Imprint Blu-ray is full of enthusiasm and it’s clear he has a lot of love for the film. It’s worth noting for UK viewers, you don’t need to know anything about baseball to enjoy the sporty scenes, particularly since the Bears are so bad.