The appeal of "The Bad News Bears" was based on the rehabilitation of an unskilled, disorganized Little League team.After two uninspired sequels, last summer's "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training" and this summer's "The Bad News Bears Go to Japan," the premise itself needs intensive care.
"The Bad News Bears Go to Japan" suffers from the same imaginative deficiencies apparent in "Omen II" and "Jaws 2." All three movies seem to presuppose an audience that demands duplication but remembers nothing.
For example, the sequence showing the Bears' ineptitude in the field was at once hilarious and necessary in the original film. The repetition of this sequence in the first sequell seemed non-sensical, because we'd been led to believe that the Bears became a competent team. An even lamer repetition in the second sequel makes the film-makers look incorrigibly dense.
"Breaking Training", the first sequel, seemed to miss a bet by failing to incorporate the kids' parents. Instead, the team was depicted implausibly traveling to the Houston Astrodome, without adult supervision, a "liberated" fantasy that required the drafting of a substitute for the original coach-father figure played by Walter Matthau as soon as the Bears arrived in Houston.
"Go to Japan" repeats and aggravates this absurdity. Now the team is headed for an exhibition game in Tokyo with a Japanese Little League club, and there is still not a parent in sight. The Bears' nominal adult guardian is a desperate promoter named Marvin Lazar, portrayed without redeeming likability by the decaying Tony Curtis. The filmmakers fall back on the function of the original Matthau character while coarsening the characterization itself.
At the same time, the juvenile characters continue to waste away. The original film introduced at least half-a-dozen memorable kids. The sequels have lost such key figures as the girl fastballer played by Tatum O'Neal, the brainy benchwarmer played Alfred Lutter and the hot-headed shortstop played by Chris Barnes without inventing a single adequate replacement.
Every aspect of the premise that might supply a source of comic and melodramatic renewal - the conflicts that arise between kids and other kids, the culture shock of American Little League baseball confronting its Japanese counterpart - is neglected or shortchanged in favor of lazy self-imitation. The only new element is a distasteful one: a complacent self-hatred that expresses itself in Ugly Americanism.
For example, Curtis is required to bully the dignified coach of the Japanese team into embarassing promotional schemes. At one juncture Curtis interruptss him while the teams are visiting a national cemetery and the coach is describing its significance to the American kids.
The ugly behavior of the Curtis character is intensified by the last-minute introduction of three American kids whose unsportsmanlike behavior disrupts the climactic game. We're supposed to believe that Curtis is pressured into adding these oversized, overage ringers to the Bears lineup by their patron, a wealthy Texan. But there's no justification for this gratuitous slur on kids from Texas.
"Go to Japan" reunites the original writer and director, Bill Lancaster and Michael Ritchie. Although Ritchie served as producer rather than director, he can scarcely plead innocent on this occasion to the charge of contributing to the degeneration of the Bad News Bears. His choice as director, John Berry, adds no discernible wit or sparkle.
By and large the film seems humorless, the reflection of exhausted or snide entertainers. Given their inability to breathe new life into the Bears, what could they be thinking of with coy hints of a trip to Cuba for yet another sequel?