It's a Christmas miracle: The legend of Bad Santa has turned Billy Bob Thornton into the drunken, foulmouthed, lecherous lowlife most likely to have a salutary effect on young people who say ''enough already'' with the damn wizards and superheroes. In Bad News Bears, director Richard Linklater's swell, fair-ball remake of the well-loved, anti-PC 1976 sports comedy, Thornton picks up the Beer Can of Unwilling Leadership from Walter Matthau to play Morris Buttermaker, a seedy washout of a onetime ballplayer scrounged up to coach a gaggle of kid-size athletic misfits into becoming a youth baseball team.
Linklater and jovially dyspeptic screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (they wrote Bad Santa their crud cred is good) know enough to leave Bill Lancaster's original structure alone. (They also wisely retain the goofy grandeur of a soundtrack driven by Bizet's opera Carmen olé.) Instead, the tweaks are subtle and unobtrusive, as Linklater proven in School of Rock to be a natural leader of yoots brings transgression up to code for the 21st century of PG-13. New-era losers (the cast is a cheery scrum of relaxed kids, led by genuine whiz pitcher Sammi Kane Kraft in the role created by Tatum O'Neal) now include a rotten kid in a wheelchair. And Greg Kinnear provides bonus smarm as Buttermaker's nemesis, a coach with a high regard for his own crotch.