Directed by Michael Pressman
With the absence of Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal, it is easy to enter into The Bad News Bears sequel, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, with subdued expectations. While loving the original installment of the trilogy, I had never seen more than a scene or two of its sequels, likely on MLB Network’s “Bleacher Features”. I’m glad I hadn’t been turned off of the sequels before, as it allowed them to be viewed fresh for this baseball marathon, even if the final results were less than fulfilling. Most of what made The Bad News Bears a great film came from the dynamic between Matthau, O’Neal and Jackie Earle Haley, and the perfect collection of misfits on the team. Sadly, with The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, it appears the producers were out for more of a cash grab than an entertaining film.
The Bears are once again gathers on the field in North Valley, California to play some baseball, but this time Buttermaker is nowhere to be seen (and we don’t really get an explanation as to why he is no longer the coach). So instead, they draw the dreadful Coach Manning, who they quickly discard. Thanks to the leadership of Kelly (Haley), they convince the field’s dopey groundkeeper to pose as their coach/chaperone to convince their parents that their forthcoming trip to play the top Houston little league team in the Astrodome, for an opportunity to travel to Japan and play the top teams there, will be under adult supervision. But once they get into a bit of trouble once in Houston, and lacking any semblance of talent once again, Kelly recruits his estranged father (William Devane) to act as their coach, just in time to shape up to play the Toros.
The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training is the perfect example of the types of mistakes that producers make when attempting to take a successful product and make a profitable sequel. They take all the superficial things that made the previous film a success, slap them into the sequel, and expect it to be fine without anything underlying to actually make it a worthwhile film. We have a band of misfits, a coach who doesn’t want to coach, and an important game at the end to win. But these characters aren’t the same, they’re not as sympathetic or relatable. Instead they are painted as caricatures. In The Bad News Bears they were caricatures too, but they had depth, which is seriously lacking here. I never felt a true struggle in the team or the story to the point that the filmmakers failed to even make me care about these kids, which is completely opposite of the original.
Thank goodness for Jackie Earle Haley, who is once again great as Kelly Leak. William Devane is a serviceable replacement for Matthau, though his character is nowhere near as interesting or entertaining. I was also disappointed in the storyline for Tanner and Lupus, essentially taking Lupus out of it altogether. If it weren’t for the strength of these performances/characters, the sequel may have fell flat on its face. Instead it is just a mediocre follow up to a great film, and one which probably isn’t really worth it for anyone but devout fans of the original who must see the follow up. I’m hoping this doesn’t happen with The Sandlot sequels later in this marathon, but I won’t get my hopes up.