Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Manny’s Orphans (1978)



          In addition to sequels and a TV series, The Bad News Bears (1976) begat ripoffs including the shameless Here Come the Tigers (1978), directed by future horror-movie icon Sean S. Cunningham. Amazingly, the same year he made Here Come the Tigers, Cunningham made another riff on The Bad News Bears, this time swapping out youth baseball for youth soccer. Manny’s Orphans, which is pleasant enough to watch but painfully formulaic and predictable, concerns an everyman with bad gambling debts who takes a job as the live-in supervisor at an orphanage, then organizes the kids into a soccer team. To the minor credit of Cunningham and his collaborators, the story structure of Manny’s Orphans does not slavishly emulate the plotting of The Bad News Bears, though the gist is similar—a man lacking direction finds himself by guiding children, and the children gain self-esteem by coalescing into an effective team. That said, the characterization, jokes, and style of Manny’s Orphans are primitive compared to the sly textures of The Bad News Bears.
          Manny (Jim Baker) loses his job as the soccer coach at a snooty private school because of his crass manners and disreputable lifestyle. Desperate to pay off a loan shark, he answers a want ad and meets Father McCoy (Malachy McCourt), who needs someone to supervise the boys in his care. Naturally, Manny takes an unusual approach, swearing around the children and playing poker with them. In the usual way of such movies, the kids find his vulgarity endearing. Among feeble subplots, the most important concerns a new arrival at the orphanage, Pepe (Melissa Valentin), who is secretly a girl. (She fled an abusive foster home.) You get the idea. Although Baker’s performance is fairly charming, McCourt is likeable, and some of the juvenile actors render passable work, flat scripting and uninspired direction make Manny’s Orphans monotonous. Still, the picture mostly avoids mean jokes and stereotypes, and the warm-fuzzy ending—no matter how obvious its construction—checks the appropriate boxes.

Manny’s Orphans: FUNKY

3 comments:

Alan Beauvais said...

Manny and the boys play poker for matchsticks, not money. The kids do bet real cash on themselves for the climactic soccer game.

By Peter Hanson said...

Thanks for the correction. Think my brain was numbed by that point.

Alan Beauvais said...

Ari Lehman, who played the womanizing orphan Roger, would reteam with director Sean S. Cunningham a year later for "Friday the 13th," as a certain kid who specialized in leaping out of lakes at unsuspecting heroines.