Amusing but pointless

A remake of the 1976 hit “The Bad News Bears” has retained that movie’s jaunty profanity and anti-establishment attitude. What it hasn’t done is invent an urgent reason to exist.

Enjoyable: Billy Bob Thornton breezes through some wickedly well-timed one-liners in this remake of the profane 1976 hit. He’s the coach of a sad-sack youth baseball team, a situation that summons up laughs even if the film never feels really necessary.

Rated: PG-13 rating is for language.

Now showing: tk

Unless, that is, it’s the presence of Billy Bob Thornton in the lead role, a move that gives the actor a chance to flex his disreputable “Bad Santa” muscles. Taking over the old Walter Matthau role, Thornton is in his laid-back element.

“Bad News Bears” (the remake disdains the “The” in the title) sticks very closely to the original movie, although it’s switched around some of the kids and their personality quirks. We’re still with a sad-sack group of youngsters who make up the worst team in a baseball league, being coached by an alcoholic grouch who catches rats for a living.

Buttermaker (Thornton) once pitched two-thirds of an inning with the Seattle Mariners, his lone major-league experience. He’s been coasting on that achievement ever since, and he plans to coast right through his gig as the Bears’ manager.

The original film, written by Bill Lancaster, had a refreshingly frank treatment of 12-year-old kids. They fought and swore and threw tantrums, and were very funny on all counts.

In fact, that film established some conventions for the juvenile sports movie that still exist today. The new version (beefed up by “Bad Santa” scripters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa) looks a little tired because of that.

The laid-back spirit matches the style of director Richard Linklater, who’s known more for his indie pictures (“Before Sunset”), although he had a mainstream hit with the somewhat similar “School of Rock.”

Linklater’s approach here is as relaxed as a summer afternoon, but he scores a few points in rapping the traditional rah-rah Winning is Everything mentality. His movies are generally on the side of life’s misfits, and that describes the Bears.

The chief rah-rah character is opposing coach Greg Kinnear, who doesn’t go for easy comedy but rather a creepier kind of dedication to winning. Marcia Gay Harden has a couple of nice moments as a baseball mom who convinces (i.e., bribes) Buttermaker to take over the team.

Some of the kids are pretty amusing, especially Timmy Deters as the highly aggressive Tanner Boyle. Linklater has made one exceptional find in Sammi Kane Kraft, a real-life youth league pitcher with a natural camera presence. She plays the Tatum O’Neal role.

At least half the movie breezes by happily on Thornton’s wickedly well-timed one-liners. Overall, it’s an enjoyable comedy, left adrift only by how extraneous it seems.

Billy Bob Thornton (right) is the coach of an inept baseball team in “Bad New Bear.”

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