We are blessed with the news on this happy spring day that Walter Matthau has sued the producers of The Bad News Bears. It is Matthau's contention that subsequent variations on its theme—The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, The Bad News Bears Meet Bigfoot, The Bad News Bears Turn Hardporn, etc., in which he did not appear—have diminished his earning power from the original TBNB opus. Inspired by this ploy, it is now my intention to file a class-action suit on behalf of beleaguered viewers against all movie producers who turn out pale replicas of The Bad News Bears or Rocky. At present, that is all we are getting.
Now fouling up the neighborhood theaters are films about ice skating, basketball and wrestling—two are Rockys, one is a Bad News Bears. The latter, entitled Take Down, is the sorriest of the three. It is about a predictably awful high school wrestling team and its predictably foolish coach, and how they win the big meet in the end. Oh, perhaps I should not be quite so harsh, and I wouldn't be if I were 14½ years old and a girl. Take Down is mostly a teen-ageploitation film, with the skimpy wrestling attire providing an opportunity for teeners to ogle the well-muscled 185 pounds of Lorenzo Lamas, who plays the star wrestler. The tall, dark and handsome Lorenzo is well bred for the part; Dad is Fernando Lamas, and Mom is Arlene Dahl. Moreover, he was raised by Esther Williams. "I really have two mothers," he says, which is fair enough because he has only one expression. Edward Herrmann, a fine actor, has taken a hack payday to play the bumbling coach, proof again that we all have our price.
The more pretentious of the new Rocky rip-offs is Ice Castles, which asks the musical question: Can a young skater from Iowa with little training become an Olympic champion overnight, especially if she has an accident in slow motion and goes blind? The answer (as you knew when you heard about the slow motion) is that the movie's ending is a freeze-frame. Lynn-Holly Johnson, plucked from the chorus of Ice Capades, makes a serviceable acting debut, playing opposite Robby Benson, the thinking man's Lorenzo Lamas. Robby pouts his way through the film, while the adult leads. Colleen Dewhurst and Tom Skerritt (see above, re E. Herrmann), don't appear to have the foggiest notion what the turgid script has them saying.
The writers and director of Ice Castles should be made to go see Movie Movie, which is a funny parody of old Class B double features that spoofs the tale of the sensitive young man who has to become a boxer to pay for an operation to keep his sister from going blind. The difference between Movie Movie and Ice Castles is that Movie Movie you can believe. The only thing in Ice Castles that rings true comes when Lynn-Holly makes the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and it takes two photographers to get the photo right. But Ice Castles is not just bad. It is in bad taste. It uses blindness as a gimmick, which is inexcusably shameless, and its language is gratuitously vulgar.
The third new film is Fast Break, which, to damn it with faint praise, is the pick of this litter. It is the tale of a New York delicatessen clerk who becomes a coach in Nevada, and stocks his team with ghetto kids. O.K. Bernard King of the Nets and Mike Warren, lately of UCLA, are among the players, while Gabriel Kaplan, the coach (pictured above), has taken Kotter to the court. But it is an engaging part that Kaplan has fashioned, and Fast Break is pleasantly harmless, more like a long skit than a full-length story. The film is greatly compromised, however, because one of the players is a girl in male disguise—and, of course, no one on the team figures this out. Gee, why be so temperately ridiculous? Why not make her blind, too? Why not make her a talking horse?
The trouble with sports movies is that Hollywood has to hoke them up. The formula is: a different sport; a big game/fight/meet at the end; and the middle filled with random implausibilities. Apparently, if it is a sports film, any real characterization is too highbrow. In all three of these movies, there is only one character—the skating coach in Ice Castles. played by Jennifer Warren—that is drawn with any dimension. Even the titles tend to be empty, meaningless catchphrases from the particular sport—Slap Shot, One on One, Take Down, Fast Break. They are more on the order of product labels, and we can only expect sequels to be named The New Improved Fast Break and Giant Economy Size Take Down.