I really feel that "Bull Durham" and "The Bad News Bears" are the only two baseball movies worth remembering. Others are have their moments, but these are the only two that really hold up for me. Brian Gunn recently pointed me to a fine critical appreciation of "The Bad News Bears" by Charles Taylor over at Slate. With a remake hitting theaters next month, what better time to take stock in the original.
The integrity of the movie lies in refusing to make the Bears cuddly or lovable. Their crudest member, a towheaded misanthrope named Tanner (Chris Barnes), sums up his teammates as "Jews, spics, niggers, pansies, and a booger-eating moron." Ritchie resists the temptation to depict the kids' foul mouths, questionable personal grooming habits, and all-around crumminess as cute precociousness. He isn't afraid to be both appalled and amused by them. "The Bad News Bears" offers a brief glimpse of a moment like the pre-code early '30s when movies had no use for moralism. The sawed-off badass (Jackie Earle Haley) who becomes the Bears' star slugger smokes his way through the movie; Buttermaker slips the kids beers after they play a particularly good game.
...What keeps "The Bad News Bears" from falling into the post-Watergate hopelessness that dogged movies of the time is that [director Michael] Ritchie's is a cheerful cynicism. For Ritchie, boosterism and patriotism are just more havens for petty corruption and hypocrisy. And while it's in no way a subtle movie, watching it today, you're struck by how a movie this relaxed in its approach could be such a crowd-pleaser.
If you like em lewd and crude, how can you possibly resist "Slapshot" for kids?