Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
In no way can I claim that I was a picky kid when it came to movies. However, even I had some limits. Although I really enjoyed both 1976ís The Bad News Bears and its first sequel, 1977ís The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training, I didnít respond positively to the third flick in the series. While I donít think I hated 1978ís The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, I possess no fond memories of it, and I feel pretty sure I disliked it.
However, attitudes change, so I thought I should give the film another look. I liked Bears and Training less today than I did in the Seventies; conversely, might I find something positive in Japan that slipped by me more than two decades ago?
Nope. If anything, Iím fairly sure Japan seems less tolerable in 2002 than it did in 1978. Put simply, this is an atrocious little film.
(Spoiler alert: to discuss the plot of Japan, I have to cover events that happened in the prior films. As such, if you donít want to know about those, skip to the next use of bold text in the review; that will let you know Iíve finished with the plot synopsis.)
At the end of Training, the Bears won the big game and would eventually head to Japan as the representatives of the US. This has fallen by the wayside as the powers that be decide to send no one; apparently the US kids keep getting beaten by the Japanese. The Bears start a campaign to go anyway, and during a TV appearance, they catch the eye of debt-ridden wannabe entertainment mogul Marvin Lazar (Tony Curtis). He wants to broadcast a game between the Bears and the Japanese kids for big bucks.
As such, Lazar makes a deal with the Bears and theyíre all off to the Land of the Rising Sun. While there, Lazar tries desperately to land a deal but runs into many troubles. Star outfielder Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) pursues a young Geisha-in-training named Ariko (Hatsune Ishihara) while the other kids play baseball badly. Eventually a game occurs. The end.
While neither of the first two movies featured storylines to rival the classics, at least they bothered with plots. Not so Japan, which exists mainly as a conglomeration of loosely related events. I think screenwriter Bill Lancaster envisioned certain images that might look cute and built a script around them. We have Tony Curtis in a wrestling match, scenes from a silly Japanese variety show, and many travelogue-worthy shots of Japan as Kelly and Ariko moon over each other. The tale goes virtually nowhere other than to lead to the inevitable big game, and even that portion of the film seems stale and uninteresting.
Why shouldnít it be - the rest of the movie bites as well. Itís a good thing they never made a fourth flick; the attrition between films started to become very noticeable. Between Bears and Training, we only lost three characters: Amanda (Tatum OíNeal), Buttermaker (Walter Matthau), and Regi Tower (Scott Firestone). Admittedly, this was still a major blow, since the first were the two most prominent participants in the first film, but the sequel at least returned the majority of the team. (While catcher Mike Engelberg came back, the actor who portrayed him did not; originator Gary Lee Cavagnaro played Engelberg in the first flick, while Jeffrey Louis Starr handled the part for the two sequels.)
Training added one new player in pitcher Carmen Ronzonni (Jimmy Baio), and the film actually bothered to mention his arrival. Not so Japan, in which a few characters vanish and new ones appear with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. Gone are Carmen, Lupus (Quinn Smith), Tanner (Chris Barnes), and Ogilvie (Alfred Lutter). As replacements we find Mustapha Rahim (Scoody Thornton), E.R.W. Tillyard III (Matthew Anton) and Abe Bernstein (Abraham Unger).
Actually, we do learn how Mustapha joined the team. Heís the little brother of outfielder Ahmad (Erin Blunt), and since their mom works, he needs to take care of him. As stupid as that is, at least itís an explanation. The other two just appear out of nowhere, and we learn absolutely nothing about what happened to the others. Tillyard seems to be a conglomeration of Tannerís looks and size and Ogilvieís smarts and savvy. As for Abe, heís just there; the characterís so weak that itís virtually non-existent, and the kid has literally nothing to do in the movie.
Some of the returning characters change for no apparent reason. When did Kelly become such a softie? He showed none of the old edge. When did Ahmad become so angry? He was always a pleasant kid, and Japan turns him into a Black Panther. When did Feldman (Brett Marx) become a Jesus freak?
The questions must remain rhetorical, for they wonít be answered in the movie. Not that I particularly care, for Japan offered absolutely nothing of interest. The film took a mix of insanely contrived and absurd situations and packaged them together in the apparent hopes that something compelling would occur. It didnít. As I watched Training, I felt a little disappointed since it wasnít as good as Iíd remembered. The Bad News Bears Go to Japan offered no such let downs, for I didnít expect anything from it. Sadly, it was even worse than I anticipated, and it provided an extremely weak end to the Bearsí bigscreen lives.
(For the record, the Bears would continue on through a short-lived TV show called The Bad News Bears. Apparently it only lasted one season; it ignored the changes that occurred between movies and used the characters from the first flick. Absolutely none of the actors returned, however; it featured an entirely new cast. Jack Warden played Buttermaker, and a very young Corey Feldman took on Regi Tower.)