Starring current Tinseltown It Boy Walter Matthau as a whiskey-swilling San Fernando Valley pool cleaner who agrees to coach the Little League equivalent of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays only after being greased upfront by a local magistrate, The Bad News Bears is both a spot-on 1970s period piece and a spectacularly irreverent movie for kids whose parents let them curse at will.
But while such plaudits are accurate, they are also dangerously simplistic if left as stand-alones. The Bad News Bears is, in totality, a shrewd update of the story of the first immigrants to reach Ellis Island by boat. Consider the following quote from shortstop Tanner Boyle:
"All we got on this team are a bunch of Jews, Spics, niggers, pansies and a booger-eatin' moron," says Boyle, who later refers to Matthau's Morris Buttermaker as "a cruddy alkie for a manager."
Much later in the film, man-child outfielder Kelly Leak single-handedly lifts the Bears out of the cellar on the strength of his .841 batting average (a statistic he uses to pick up adult ballet dancers). But before he agrees to join the team, Tatum O'Neal -- portraying an eleven-year-old girl with a burgeoning roadside star map business and a wicked curveball (not to mention a Vaseline-induced spitter) -- unsuccessfully attempts to cajole him into suiting up over a game of air hockey.
"The baseball you guys play is for faggots and old farts," says Leak, explaining why he won't join the Bears.
O'Neal counters by asking him why he shows up for virtually every game on his motorcycle, which he rides around town with impunity long before his sixteenth birthday.
"There's nice ass at the field," replies Leak, played by the clock-punching Jackie Earl Haley from Breaking Away.
Leak also calls the team's fat lesbian equipment manager a "whore," while the Bears' overweight catcher, Engelberg, is referred to throughout the film as a "fat ass."
Now think about who was on that first boat of immigrants.
Jews? Check. Spics? Check. Niggers? They were on another boat, but this is Hollywood, and Hollywood takes certain historical liberties to placate the masses (and, in this instance, good on 'em for it).
It is also all but certain that there were some pansies, faggots, alcoholics, old farts, fat lesbian whores and booger-eatin' morons on that boat. More challenging is whether any morbidly overweight Little League catchers washed ashore, as child obesity is a distinctly American, distinctly modern disease wrought by parents who feed their kids Doritos for dinner and buy them board games instead of free weights.
And, oh yes, there was definitely some nice ass on Ellis Island. Just look at the Statue of Liberty. You could bounce a quarter off that rock-hard ass.
Initially, this insanely diverse band of immigrants struggled mightily to co-exist. Ethnically charged brawls would erupt in the streets of New York City and beyond. This sort of scrapping carried on for hundreds of years.
Like the first immigrants, the Bears are prone to racially fueled infighting galore -- such as when right-fielder Ahmad Abdul Rahim requests that Buttermaker cease giving him "that honky bullshit" -- and take several games to jell on the field. Only the Bears' "games" are the immigrants' "centuries."
Once the Bears become a cohesive unit and complete their march toward the title game, they still have one last obstacle to clear. Fittingly, this hurdle is a team called the Yankees, sponsored by Denny's and lorded over by Coach Roy Turner, a cinematic cock-knocker of unimpeachable order who beats his son on the pitcher's mound.
The immigrants faced several Roy Turners, not the least of which was Ronald Reagan, who, through sinister, codified terms and policies, slyly subverted the freedoms of pretty much everyone, from Jews to faggots to statuesque women with nice asses and granite torches in their right hands. The only group Reagan didn't screw over was old farts, presumably because he was one.
Ultimately, the Bears ("immigrants") come up just short in their quest for the title ("freedom") when Kelly Leak is tagged out while sliding into home for what would have been a game-tying grand slam. While this climax is unfortunate, it is also historically accurate. While oppressed groups have made great strides since they got off that boat several centuries ago, greater strides still remain for the making.
God Bless America.