Starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal directed by Michael Ritchie
What good clean fun comes to mind when you think of beer, cussing, and fighting? Baseball, of course. And what better place to learn about all this as a kid? Little League, obviously.
In Paramount's "Bad News Bears", we find a group of kids sharing in all the glorious fun that Little League baseball can provide.
Walter Matthau stars as the coach who needs a few bucks to supplement his swimming pool cleaning business, in director Michael Ritchie's careful study of America's favorite amateur pastime.
Matthau's task as coach Mo Buttermaker is to shape a team of sorry beginners into first-place contenders. The Bears, in turn, must shape their beer-guzzling, semi-alcoholic coach into a serious leader. Once the coach and the team learn to cooperate with each other, the rest is child's play. The only thing left to do is win ballgames. Or is it?
This is where Bill Lancaster's screenplay makes statements about the emphasis we all place on winning. The coach acts not only as coach, but also as scout. Matthau sets out to acquire a little extra help lor the Bears. Part of that help is a hot female pitcher played by Tatum O'Neal.
This is no ordinary Little League pitcher, mind you. This gal can pitch curve balls, and spit balls, like no one else in the league. But we do want to win, don't we? Or do we?
The child actors who make up the Bears have been carefully selected to include a token everything; token delinquent, token Hank Aaron and even a token nose-picker.
One team member who really stands out - David Carlton Stambaugh. This boy has honest talent and every bit of it comes out in his role as Tanner, the tough little kid who ain't afraid to fight for his friends.
At one point in the film, the team is ready to mutiny against their coach. Things are bad and they've had it. Coach Buttermaker asks Tanner what he wants to do. "I just wanna play ball," answers Tanner, and you know this kid has a lot of courage and guts. As Tanner holds his team together, David Stambaugh holds the film together. He brings the extra credibility to "Bears" that makes the film more than just a comedy (as Paramount's dull ad campaignmight suggest).
There is plenty of comedy in "Bears". Most of the funny business is due to Matthau, as this is perhaps his best film performance to date. He is a sensitive actor and, as Coach Buttermaker probably the greatest coach the pint-size leagues will ever see. Matthau's work is convincing at all times, his character precise as he acts and reacts with the kids.
The only thing wrong with "Bad News Bears" is that there aren't any season tickets.