Thursday, November 9, 2017

#2,458. The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978)

Directed By: John Barry

Starring: Tony Curtis, Jackie Earle Haley, Tomisaburô Wakayama

Tag line: "They never met an adult they couldn't drive crazy"

Trivia: This film was followed by a 1979 CBS-TV series

Remember the story I told about my first trip to a drive-in theater? 

Probably not, but as a reminder check out my reviews of Jaws 2 and Rollercoaster, which was the double feature that night way back in 1978. 

The only other thing I recall about that particular evening was the trailer for The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, which, if memory serves, played during the intermission between the two movies. It dawned on me recently that I’d never actually seen this 3rd entry in the Bad News Bears series, and that maybe I should rectify this oversight as soon as possible. 

Well, today was the day, and to be honest I should have quit while I was ahead with the trailer; The Bad News Bears Go to Japan sucks. 

When it’s reported that the United States is refusing to send a little league team to Japan to face a collection of that country’s all-stars, the hapless Bears, led by their captain Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley), decide to take up the challenge. Unfortunately, the Bears don’t have enough money to make the trip, nor is there an adult willing to chaperone them during their stay in Tokyo. 

Enter Henry Lazar (Tony Curtis), a talent agent / swindler who owes money to every bookie in town. Convinced that he can talk a major U.S. network into covering the game, Lazar has each member of the Bears sign a contract, then packs the team up and flies them to Japan. Of course, setting the Bad News Bears loose on foreign soil does have its consequences, but Lazar, who is determined to make a boatload of cash, vows to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the game goes off without a hitch. 

Part of what made the original The Bad News Bears a surprise hit was its collection of child actors, whose foul language and crass behavior was good for a few laughs. Even The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training - the middle film in this “trilogy” - realized this on some level (though it didn’t pull it off as well as the first movie). In The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, however, the Bears are rarely more than background characters in their own movie, with most of the story instead centering on Tony Curtis’s Lazar. We tag along with Lazar to a martial arts championship bout (which gets completely out of hand, and not in a funny way) as well as the live broadcast of a Japanese TV variety show, which features the kids from the opposing team, along with their coach, Shimizu (Tomisaburô Wakayama, star of the Lone Wolf and Cub / Shogun Assassin series of movies), belting out a couple of songs. In each of these sequences, and many others, the Bears are given very little to do. 

This approach might have worked had Tony Curtis delivered even a halfway decent performance. But he didn’t. In fact, he was terrible; in every scene, Curtis was trying way too hard to be funny, rattling off silly one-liners and going over-the-top as his character continually attempted to hustle the Japanese team, an American television network, and even the Bears themselves into believing he knew what he’s doing. Lazar, who is only interested in making a few bucks, is a pretty nasty person, actually, and we don’t believe for a minute that any parent would let him take their child halfway around the world. Tony Curtis was certainly not a bad actor (he was good in Spartacus and The Vikings, and superb in The Defiant Ones and Sweet Smell of Success), but you wouldn’t know it from the crappy performance he delivers here. 

There are other problems with The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, including a romantic subplot between Kelly and a teenage geisha / musician named Akira (Hatsune Ishihara) that’s crowbarred into the narrative; scenes that end suddenly, with no resolution; and racially insensitive remarks uttered by the Bears early in the film (though, thankfully, the slurs were kept to a minimum, and one of the story’s better aspects was the friendship that developed between the team and their Japanese rivals). Worst of all, though, is the amazingly uncomfortable scene in which Lazar tries to explain to 6-year-old Mustapha (Scoody Thornton) what goes on inside a Japanese massage parlor! 

Perhaps I was a bit naïve, but I did have high hopes going into The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, mostly because Michael Ritchie, the director of the original film, was back for this 3rd installment, acting as producer (it was directed by John Barry). Alas, not even a guy as talented as Ritchie could save this mess. The Bad News Bears Go to Japan is a muddled, unfunny piece of dreck, and should be avoided.

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