Here come the Tigers . . . and there goes the neighborhood.
You wouldn't want this crew moving down the street from you, and you probably won't want them on your TV screen, either.
Coming two years after the surprisingly successful "Bad News Bears," this 1978 film feels like a generic, low-budget, low-brains knockoff. There's nothing in "Here Come the Tigers" that would remotely appeal to adults, and yet it's absolutely not for the children it seems to have targeted. That PG rating on the box? Things were different in the Seventies, so parents be warned. Just as the little cleated tikes spouted profanity in "The Bad News Bears," they do so here too . . . but it's not as shockingly funny when we've seen it before, and it's not nearly as effective when the kids deliver their lines with the same "who cares" imprecision as my paper boy chucks them onto my porch. Take away the cute factor and character interest and these kids are just foul-mouthed cardboard cut-outs, with plenty of fart talk and more four-letter words flying out of their mouths than balls leaving the infield. And when their cop-coach brings home one lad to meet his wife, the delinquent calls her "a nice piece of fluff" to her face. Mr. mild-mannered authority figure just smiles and shrugs as he does through most of the film, while the Mrs. responds as if it were normal small talk.
If it wasn't for the language you'd swear (pardon the pun) that this must have been a made-for-TV movie—one intended to be shown at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning when only kids in pajamas congregate around the TV set. The script is cinematic shorthand, the dialogue is awful, the acting is the sort you normally see on locally produced TV commercials, and the direction seems to have been little more than telling people when a shot started and ended. And as if all of that isn't annoying enough, director Sean S. Cunningham (who went on to produce such gems as "Freddy Vs. Jason") got the bright idea to randomly insert Keystone Cops moments, with balls beaning players to the exaggerated sound of an unnatural Foley effect or players tumbling with equally cartoonish sound effects accompanying the action. Even when the action isn't played with comic exaggeration, the sound effects are bargain basement and inappropriate. Example? You hear the same crisp crack of the bat on a ball whether it's an infield pop-fly, a screaming liner, or a towering home run.
"The Bad News Bears" (1976) had Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal to provide interest for adults, but the cast of "Here Come the Tigers" is so boring at best and downright atrocious at times that it's painful to watch them and hard to believe that a casting call couldn't turn up a better ensemble.
Richard Lincoln comes across like John Ritter under sedation as Eddie Burke, a milquetoast cop who's partnered with a clueless goof (James Zvanut) named Burt. Burt and Eddie ("Ernie" would be more appropriate to a pair that acts so juvenile) get roped into coaching a little league team that's so terrible they're legendary. This year's crop features a flatulent young outfielder, a chronic nose-picker, a juvenile delinquent, and a pretty girl whose motivation for being a part of this group of nerdy losers is never clear. Now, we've seen character types before in baseball movies that are far more successful, but in films like "Major League" and "A League of Their Own" the script is witty, the lines funny, and the characters are actually developed. None of that is the case here. And the rise from losers to winners is such an as-the-crow-flies arc that it's totally unbelievable. Not funny and not believable isn't a good combination.
So how do these losers get to a championship game? Well, they play three teams and turn everything around with the addition of a karate-loving Asian boy who hits for power and a deaf boy who just happens to be the Satchel Paige of the spoiled rich-kid set. The one climactic moment comes at a pool hall (yes, pool hall) where the Tigers are roughed up by the team they'll play for the championship. But it's all so by-the-numbers that there's zero emotional involvement and zero tension—none of which is helped by a quiet, music-less backdrop. Apparently it was too expensive to hire a composer or pay rights on songs. The musical background is a classical soundtrack, which plays out similarly to the football game in the film version of "M*A*S*H"—though this goes on throughout the entire film. "Here Come the Tigers" is only 90 minutes long, but it feels like three hours.
So many films are interesting because of the child actors that got their start in them and went on to bigger and better things. But it speaks volumes that this film features people like Noel Cunningham, Samantha Grey, Sean P. Griffin, Fred J. Lincoln, Kevin Moore, Max McClellan, Ted Oyama, David Schmalholz, Andy Weeks, Andy Wittenstein, Lance Norwood, Xavier Rodrigo, and Philip Scuderi. For some, it would be their only film, or one of two.
There's but one interesting thing to come out of "Here Come the Tigers," and it's that filmmaker Wes Craven ("Nightmare on Elm Street") is listed in the credits and apparently worked on the film as a "stunt gaffer." Now, at least, we know where his nightmares were coming from.
Video: Every aspect of "Here Come the Tigers" shouts low-budget, and the film quality is no exception. Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, the film sports washed-out colors and plenty of grain. It's not awful, mind you, but when the film itself is so bad the picture quality can start to look pretty bad as well, and this one starts to feel like your neighbor filmed it with his camcorder.
Audio: No audio is given, but to my ear it's English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono, with a flat sound that is mercifully free of the type of hiss you usually get on a low-budget film. Subtitles are in French.
Extras: Thank the baseball gods, there are no extras.
Bottom Line: "Here Come the Tigers" proves three things: not all misfits are lovable, not all kids are interesting, and it's possible to make a lifeless film about an energetic sport.