Billy Bob Thornton, who once tried out for the minor leagues, looks very much at home on a baseball diamond-and that is the one big advantage he has over Walter Matthau, who created the curmudgeonly character of Morris Buttermaker in the original Bad News Bears nearly 30 years ago. In the current remake, however, Thornton is simply too tanned, too trim, too healthy and too neatly turned-out in his pressed jeans to be entirely credible as an alcoholic degenerate like Buttermaker, an aging ex-ball player who's bribed into coaching a team of Little League rejects.

Director Richard Linklater's version of Bad News Bears has no major plot innovations; it essentially differs from the original in the casting choices. In addition to substituting neat-freak Thornton for pigpen Matthau, Sammi Kane Kraft, a real-life All-Star, has replaced the then box-office star Tatum O'Neal as Amanda, the pitching wiz, and another young baseball comer, Jeff Davies, plays bad-boy Kelly, a home-run hitter who can be counted on to save the day for the bad-news Bears. The rest of the team is made up of professional young actors, and they are a terrifically talented bunch-led by Timmy Deters as Tanner, a diminutive ball of belligerence, and Brandon Craggs as the overweight and overbearing Engelberg.

The other adult actors do not fare as well as the kids. Marcia Gay Harden seems totally out in left field as the lawyer (and mother of one of the Bears) whose lawsuit was responsible for getting Buttermaker to coach the kids, who are not good enough to play ball with the winning teams. Greg Kinnear is suitably smug as the coach for the Yankees, the kids' league champions, but he looks as if he'd rather be in any movie other than this one, competing with scene-stealers like Thornton and a passel of smut-talking pre-teens.

Bad News Bears is packed with laughs, but almost all of them are cheaply won through the four-letter words and rapid-fire dirty talk of Buttermaker and his boys. Yes, it's startling to hear this kind of foul language out of the mouths of babes, but it's also funny. The baseball action is plentiful and mostly exciting, as Buttermaker gives the Bears some serious lessons in how to play ball and eventually inspires them to get out there and win.

After his role in Bad Santa, Billy Bob Thornton has unquestionably become the image of curmudgeonliness for today's young movie audiences-the ones who can make or break a film's chances in its opening weekend. And they're gonna love Billy Bob in Bad News Bears.
-Shirley Sealy