''The Bad News Bears was sort of the Bad Santa of its day,'' declares Billy Bob Thornton, a big fan of the blue 1976 kids' baseball comedy starring Walter Matthau as a drunken Little League coach named Buttermaker. Don't expect the remake starring Thornton in the Matthau role, and scripted by the Santa writers to go as far out as Thornton's dirty 2003 Christmas comedy. ''It's [supposed to be] PG-13,'' Thornton says of Bears. ''So I don't just come out and do whatever the hell I want to.'' But do expect it to stay faithful to the original. ''I mean, it's the same movie,'' says Linklater, who aced his previous subversive big-studio comedy, School of Rock. ''Some of it is just more wrong.'' Like what? ''Well, Billy's even more of a sexual being,'' he explains. ''He's got strippers for fans, who come out for the games. He's just more of a drunk. In the first movie, he takes [the kids] to get hot dogs. In this one, he takes 'em to a Hooters.''
Still, Thornton in full coachy, pep-talk mode on the film's Encino, Calif., set sums up the movie's underlying message like this: ''You think all the smart-ass honor-roll rich kids are the only people who deserve to exist in the world? They're not! The kids who aren't quite up to par, they should have a chance too. Maybe this group of losers does use foul language, but they got a heart just as much as everybody else does.'' Thornton grins: ''I think that's valuable.''