The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training gives the underdogs from southern California’s North Valley League a shot at the Houston Toros—a bigger, stronger, and faster team. Where else could the climactic game take place but the Astrodome—the post-modern Eighth Wonder of the World.
With Tatum O’Neal and Walter Matthau from the 1976 movie The Bad News Bears absent in this 1977 sequel, the Bears need a pitcher, a coach, and a way to get to Houston. Timmy Lupus, the team’s worst player, cannot travel with the team because he broke a leg while skateboarding.
Enter Carmen Ronzonni, a friend of Kelly Leak—the Bears’ star player. Employing a maintenance worker bordering on mute, the Bears construct a scheme to have him masquerade as the coach with basic sentences to greet the parents. After the parents drop off the kids, Kelly et al. take a van to Houston. During the Bears’ voyage, the audience hears Looking Good, a song performed by James Rolleston, with lyrics by Norman Gimbel and music by Craig Safan.
A subplot reveals Kelly’s other reason for traveling to Houston—his long gone father. Kelly confronts him at a factory. Initially, Michael Leak agrees to be a figurehead so the team can have a legitimate coach, something they hadn’t considered. But his status too changes; the Bears realize he can help them in their game against the Toros. Kelly’s already strained relationship with his father continues to fracture during a tense moment in a practice where the father eclipses the son as the team’s leader.
Right before the game at the Astrodome, Tanner, the wise-cracking shortstop, gives a locker room speech mirroring the climactic “Win One for the Gipper” speech in Knute Rockne, All-American, a movie he saw late at night while the rest of the team was asleep in the hotel room. Tanner’s speech could easily be titled “Win One for the Looper” in a nod to Lupus.
The four-inning game between the Toros and the Bears takes place between the games of a doubleheader at the Astrodome. Only one problem, though. The powers that be call the game on account of time. Bob Watson and Cesar Cedeno of the Houston Astros appear in the dugout. When they find out that the game ended prematurely, Watson exclaims, “Come on, let the kids play!”
Inspired, Michael Leak takes the field and shouts, “Let them play! Let them play!” Kelly joins him in the chant, signaling a new relationship between the two Leaks. The Bears follow suit, as does the Astrodome crowd. Meanwhile, Tanner refuses to leave the field, evading the two suited gentlemen trying to capture him.
Caving under the pressure, the decision makers resume the game. Carmen slams an inside-the-park grand slam for a Bears victory. The Bad News Bears in Japan followed, marking the end of this 1970s baseball movie trilogy.
Boston Globe film critic Bruce McCabe wrote, “The film is perhaps most successful when it stops trying to figure out exactly what it’s supposed to be and goes for a certain kind of laugh. One such moment is when a loony groundskeeper is conned by the kids into pretending to be their manager. Another is when the van, filled with adolescent and preadolescent boys, backs up on a freeway to give a ride to a comely young hitch-hiker who has decided she’d rather not be a passenger.”
A version of this article originally appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 1, 2014.