The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978)

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First they proved themselves in the Little League. Then, they conquered Houston. Now, the Bad News Bears are going to Japan in this final installment of the trilogy.

The Bears are in a dilemma. They are invited to face the top Little League team in Japan but they are unable to go because for one, they can’t afford the trip and two, they don’t have a coach. When Marvin Lazar, a local hustler and promoter, sees the Bears on TV, he finds the opportunity to not only help the team, but help his career as well. Lazar makes an offer to the team to take them to Japan to face the country’s Little League champions.

From the moment they step on Japanese soil, things don’t go as planned at all. Lazar attempts for the team and himself to appear on various programming for promotion for the game. He even warms up to Shimizu, the coach of the Japanese team. Meanwhile, Bears captain Kelly Leak finds himself falling in love with a local girl, Arika. When Marvin decides to hire three ringers to the team to give the Bears a boost, Kelly and the others are none too pleased and both teams decide to make a decision to make things right once and for all.

What has happened to the Bears? What’s even more the outstanding is the original screenwriter, Bill Lancaster, returned to script this third and final installment of the underdog baseball films with the original film’s director, Michael Ritchie, serving as producer. While the concept, in which the baseball team goes to Japan to face an international team, it’s the execution that is lacking and rightfully puts an end to the film series for twenty seven years, until Richard Linklater remade the original in 2005.

Following Walter Matthau and William Devane, enter Tony Curtis as the new “coach”, who is actually a hustler and promoter who seesk to exploit the team for financial gain for himself as like Buttermaker before him, is down-and-out with a last chance attempt to prove himself. However, unlike Buttermaker, Lazar is truly somewhat of a snake who until nearly the end of the film, decides he does care after all. Even when the character of Mustapha, the little brother of veteran player Ahmad, warms up to Lazar, Marvin seems to rebuff the bond on numerous occasions.

Six of the original Bears return for not only this film, but have appeared in all three films. David Pollock returns as Rudy Stein. Erin Blunt as Ahmad Abdul Rahim. George Gonzales as Miguel Aguilar. Brett Marx as Jimmy Feldman. David Stambaugh as Toby Whitewood, and Jackie Earle Haley as the captain Kelly Leak. In an effort to shy away from ridiculous antics of Lazar and the rest of the team, which include an actually fun cameo from legendary wrestler Antonio Inoki and a comical performance from martial artist Sonny Barnes, Kelly is given a more serious subplot involving a romance with Japanese girl Akira, played by Hatsune Ishihara. The romantic subplot brings a sense of cuteness and seriousness to an all-too ridiculous installment.

The Bad News Bears Go to Japan had potential and had a good concept. However, the execution is truly not as great and while there is a welcome subplot involving Kelly Leak’s romance, the overall effort truly put the nail in the coffin to the film series. The result would be a two-season TV series of the original and then the 2005 remake of the original.

WFG RATING: C-

A Paramount Pictures production. Director: John Berry. Producer: Michael Ritchie. Writer: Bill Lancaster. Cinematography: Kôzô Okazaki and Gene Polito. Editing: Richard A. Harris and Dennis Virkler.

Cast: Tony Curtis, Jackie Earle Haley, Tomisaburô Wakayama, Antonio Inoki, Hatsune Ishihara, George Wyner, Lonny Chapman, Matthew Anton, Erin Blunt, George Gonzales, Brett Marx, Scoody Thornton, Abraham Unger, Sonny Barnes, Sho Kosugi.

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