25 years ago, sequels to hit movies weren’t quite as automatic as they are today; heck, we now have cases like the Lord of the Rings trilogy for which the sequels were filmed before the first one even hit the screen! Nonetheless, even back in the Seventies, if you did well with a movie, it seemed likely that you’d find a second incarnation before too long.
In the case of 1976’s The Bad News Bears, it didn’t take long for the first sequel to hit the screens. We received the next episode in the saga of the rag-tag underdog Little Leaguers only a year after the original appeared; The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training arrived at cinemas in the summer of 1977.
While I don’t recall how well it did in comparison with the first film, I believe Training actually performed fairly well. At least it moved enough tickets to warrant a third chapter, which came with 1978’s The Bad News Bears Go to Japan. (That was the one that killed the Bears as a cinematic force.)
As I’ll note when I review Japan, I never liked the third film, but I really enjoyed Training when I saw it originally. I was 10 when it hit theaters, so I fell right within the movie’s target audience. I think I took it in a good two or three times back then and liked it a lot every time.
Of course, opinions change with age. What worked for me as a 10-year-old might not do it for me at 34. Sometimes childhood favorites still play fairly well - Star Wars came out the same year and remains one of my preferred flicks - but often they lose appeal. That was definitely the case for Training. While the movie remained moderately enjoyable, it lacked the charm and wit that I felt it contained as a child.
(Spoiler alert: to discuss the plot of Training, I have to cover events that happened in the prior films. As such, if you don’t want to know about those, skip to the next use of bold text in the review; that will let you know I’ve finished with the plot synopsis.)
Training picks up at some unspecified time not long after the conclusion of Bears. In that flick, they came in second place after they narrowly lost the big local league championship game. Despite this runner-up status, mysteriously they’ve been chosen to go to Houston as the “California champs” and play an exhibition game against the best of Texas between contests of an Astros double-header.
Also mysteriously, we’ve lost some of the characters from the first film. Coach Buttermaker fails to reappear, and we also don’t see star pitcher Amanda or player Regi Tower. In place of the first, the team gets stuck with tough high school coach Manning (Dolph Sweet) who - gasp - tries to imbue some discipline within the squad! Of course, the scrappy kids don’t want this, so proto-delinquent - and star outfielder - Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) annoys the coach enough to make him quit.
Unfortunately, this leaves the team without a coach. They feel they don’t need one to play well, but the rules require an adult be on the field with them. There’s also the question of who will take them from California to Texas. However, Kelly reassures the team that he’ll cover all the proverbial bases. He gets them a van - of questionable legality - and also provides a new star pitcher to replace Amanda: he finds Carmen Ronzonni (Jimmy Baio), a kid who purports to possess the repertoire of then-current stars like Luis Tiant and Catfish Hunter.
As for the coach, Kelly convinces a mentally deficient Little League groundskeeper to fake it long enough for the kids to escape the clutches of their parents and he drives the van to Texas himself. He tells the team he’ll get them a leader when they arrive in the Lone Star State.
However, they encounter some problems after they arrive. Because Kelly parked illegally, the cops find them at their hotel and put some pressure on them to produce an adult. Kelly locates an unlikely party: his long-estranged father Mike (William Devane). Despite the strained relations, Mike agrees to help his son and bails them out of their problem.
Since the team relates that they don’t actually need instruction, we seem them practice on their own. Of course, they appear to have lost all of the skills they used to possess, so Mike ends up actually coaching them after all. Kelly seems to resent the attention Mike gives to the other kids, and this causes some tension.
Of course, the main goal of the movie is the big game. The movie briefly sets up the Houston Toros as bad guys; we don’t get the level of exposition found with the Yankees in the first flick, as Training simply offers some quick obnoxiousness from players and coach to make sure we hate the Toros. This works and inevitably, we happily root for the underdog Bears as they play within the confines of the Dome.
I won’t reveal the ultimate ending, of course, but I do want to discuss the change in tone between Bears and Training. The former presented a refreshingly unsentimental attitude; while still positive as a whole, it lacked the usual sappiness that one expects from that sort of David vs. Goliath flick.
On the other hand, Training falls into some of the traps the first film avoided. On one hand, it’s nice to see the additional depth found within the relationship between Kelly and his dad. One complaint I had about the original movie stemmed from the lack of character development, so it’s good to discover additional breadth in this category.
Unfortunately, this expansion feels forced and artificial. It appears to come for token reasons and much of the conflict between Mike and Kelly makes little sense. On one hand, Kelly seems strangely unperturbed by the fact he’s not heard a peep from Mike in the last eight years, but on the other, he gets exceedingly upset that Dad pays some attention to the other kids. Mike doesn’t even ignore Kelly, which is why the angst appears so odd. Yes, it’s exceedingly logical that Kelly’s be mad at Mike, but the movie manifests this in unlikely ways.
It also introduces artificial sentimentality due to the absence of tiny, booger-eater Lupus (Quinn Smith). He broke his leg and couldn’t accompany the team to Texas, so scrappy Tanner (Chris Barnes) makes it a cause to “win one for the Looper”. Another attempt to add depth, this aspect also seems like little more than more forced emotionality that goes nowhere.
Much about Training makes little sense. The movie doesn’t bother to explain why Amanda, Buttermaker or Regi fail to appear in the sequel, though at least we do learn how Carmen joined the team. As noted, we never learn why the Bears go to Texas instead of the actual champion Yankees, and the manner in which they dispose of Coach Manning is absurd; clearly that twist exists just so they’ll need Mike when they get to Texas. In addition, how come Jose (Jaime Escobedo) now speaks fluent English? He only knew Spanish in the first flick, though bizarrely, brother Miguel (George Gonzales) still can’t say a word of English.
Frankly, Training is something of a mess. It makes absolutely no sense that the pretty good team all of a sudden becomes incompetent again. Apparently the players completely forgot all of the training given to them by Buttermaker. Why does this happen? So the movie can have them be lovable losers again.
That’s a trademark of sequels. They’re supposed to give us what we got in the first flick but alter that slightly. Training works this way, but it makes silly stretches to repeat the exploits of the original. It also seems much sappier due to the excessive sentimentality; even the score appears wimpier and more sugary.
Despite all of these flaws - and make no mistake, Training is a problematic flick - I still enjoyed the film to a moderate degree. Perhaps it’s my own nostalgia for my squandered youth, but I managed to have a relatively good time as I watched Training. It definitely is a kid’s film, much more so than the original; it loses some of that flick’s hard edge and gets replaced with a more cartoony side.
As such, the laughs come less frequently for an adult, though I expect it’ll still work for kids. Surprisingly, the big game seems more exciting here than in Bears. Maybe it’s the excitement of the Astrodome, or perhaps it’s the less complicated nature of the film, but I felt more involved in this contest than I did during the match between the Yankees and the Bears.
So my feelings about The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training remain somewhat conflicted. Overall, the film hasn’t aged terribly well, and it seems maudlin and manipulative at times. It lacks believable depth and presents forced and awkward situations to match its goals. However, I still had a bit of fun with the movie, if just for old time’s sake. It had some entertaining moments and seemed pleasant as a whole.
The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the movie looked fairly good as a whole, it showed enough problems to appear pretty average overall.
Sharpness was usually quite strong. Most of the movie looked nicely crisp and well delineated. However, some softness occurred during wide shots; at times those could appear moderately fuzzy. Still, much of the flick came across as accurate and distinct. Jagged edges caused no concerns, but moiré effects cropped up due to Toby’s striped shirt; that stupid thing strobed like crazy whenever we saw it! Some edge enhancement also seemed apparent throughout the movie; this remained fairly minor but was still noticeable.
Print flaws caused moderate but consistent throughout the movie. I saw fairly frequent examples of speckles, grit and light grain, and I also witnessed periodic signs of nicks, spots and general modest debris. Again, the defects never seemed excessive given the age of the film, but they did present distractions at times.
As was the case with the first film, Training featured some very nice colors for the most part. During the Astrodome scenes, the hues looked slightly muddy, but overall, they came across as nicely bright and vivid. The many outdoors settings and the varied palette offered by uniforms and other elements meant that the tones seemed vibrant and accurate in general. Black levels appeared reasonably deep and dense, while shadow detail actually improved from the original movie. Some low-light situations still appeared moderately opaque, but most of them looked fairly clear. Ultimately, the combination of mild softness and print flaws dropped my score to a “C+”, but Breaking Training still offered a pretty positive image.
Fairly average for its era was the monaural soundtrack of Breaking Training. Across the board, it sounded flat and dull but still seemed acceptable for the age of the material. Dialogue appeared intelligible and usually lacked edginess, but the speech came across as bland and a little muddled at times. Crowd noise showed some shrill qualities and a modest amount of distortion, as did some of the other loud effects heard in the Astrodome sequences. Otherwise, effects appeared clean though still fairly lifeless.
The pop song “Lookin’ Good” demonstrated acceptable bass response, but otherwise the score showed little dynamic range. Happily, the track lacked the hiss that marred parts of the first film; the film showed no signs of source flaws. Overall, the audio remained acceptably clear throughout the film, but little about Breaking Training stood out in a positive way.
All three of the Bears movies totally lack extras. Often the first movie in the series will offer at least a few tidbits, but these flicks all were treated equally. As such, we get nothing on Breaking Training; no commentary, no trailer, no nothing!
Overall, The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training offers a flawed piece that seems forced and sentimental at times. However, it manages to provide some fun moments and comes to a fairly rousing conclusion in spite of itself. The DVD features generally average picture and sound plus no extras. Big fans of the Bears might want to pick up a copy of Breaking Training, but others should consider a rental at most.