The Set of 400: #284 – My Favorite Air Hockey Beatdown

Today! Because we lost 18 to nothing, Buttercrud, and the Athletics are the worst team in the league –

The Bad News Bears (1976)

Directed by Michael Ritchie

Starring Walter Matthau (x2), Tatum O’Neal, Jackie Earle Haley, Vic Morrow (x2), Joyce Van Patten, Ben Piazza, Chris Barnes, Shari Summers (x2), George Wyner (x2)

One of the best cinematic representations of what monstrous little shits children can be, The Bad News Bears nonetheless features a fun-loving group of disparate races, religions, sexes, and general personalities, often at odds across the baseball diamond or in their own dugout, periodically hurling racist and sexist slurs at each other. And, I don’t know, little kids cursing and spouting off like Republicans at white power marches just strikes me as really funny.

That’s the big takeaway, right? Children are awful?

If you want a good indication of how far the original really pushes things, try watching the watered down Billy Bob Thornton remake from the ’00s – now is that better? Without the crass, insensitive vulgarity, the movie is barely watchable. It’s not a cuddly enough story to compete with the likes of, say, The Sandlot, and shifting the focus from the asshole kids to what a dick Buttermaker is doesn’t exactly make anyone sympathetic or enjoyable. The remake was quickly on the heels of Bad Santa, so maybe they were just looking for another property for Thornton to be an inappropriate drunk in. Either way, it’s not much worth your time.

But the original still mostly holds up, if you aren’t overly sensitive to the kids’ banter. I mean, look, Tanner is a bastard, but that kid is hilarious. And over the course of the film, with Matthau’s own drunken Buttermaker well suited opposite O’Neal’s pitching whiz Amanda and Jackie Earle Haley’s bad boy athlete Kelly, everyone begrudgingly learns to accept each other, come together as a team, and direct their little kid hatred where it really belongs – the opposing team. So even though it can be shocking to hear a ten-year-old dropping the N word in what’s ostensibly a kid’s movie (it’s rated PG!), at least they all sorta learn to get along in the end. And isn’t that how progress is really made? Confront our poor behavior, learn from it, and get into violent fights with our competitors?

Matthau’s performance was bundled with his work in The Sunshine Boys for a BAFTA nomination (I think he’s better here, honestly), but by and large Bad News Bears was ignored at awards time, not being that kind of movie. But how about we hand over Best Foreign Language Argument Against Wearing a Cup, at Jose’s explosive, mistranslated outrage over the team edict.

Four new Two-Timers include Matthau, with #357 JFK (the 11th cast member from that film in the guild now), Morrow (#331 Twilight Zone: The Movie), George Wyner (appearing many years later in #367 A Serious Man), and the interesting case of one Shari Summers, who only has five film credits to her name, but entirely coincidentally appeared in yesterday’s #285 Harold and Maude. Huh! Now that’s a deserving spotlight!

Summers (right) with Vivian Pickles in Harold and Maude

Coming Monday! Here’s something else you forgot to factor in – we’re not that drunk –

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