'Bad News Bears' New Again With Billy Bob

Richard Linklater knows what you're thinking. "When you hear about remakes, you're like, 'bad idea,'" the director says. "With 'Bad News Bears,' (search) I had an allergic reaction to it -- until I heard it was Billy Bob."

If anyone could live up to Walter Matthau's curmudgeonly coach Buttermaker in the 1976 baseball movie, it'd be Billy Bob Thornton, who demonstrated his black-comedy chops in 2003's "Bad Santa."

So the cult director, coming off the very grown-up "Before Sunset," took on the project -- largely because it seemed so unlikely that such a movie would get made today.

"If this showed up as an original screenplay, no studio would touch it," he says. "The bad behavior among the kids, such a flawed leading guy being around children ... it seemed like an excellent opportunity to get that attitude out there, to run wild."

Indeed, "Bears" is markedly wilder than Linklater's previous kids' movie, the sweet-natured "School of Rock."

In keeping with the original, there's a steady stream of curse words, poop jokes and bawdy adult humor in the tale of an alcoholic rat exterminator turned Little League coach for a team of seemingly born losers.

What's different is the film's approach to diversity: Tanner, the team's towheaded spitfire, no longer flings around racial epithets like he did in the original.

But, Linklater is quick to assert, he's not trying to smooth out the film's controversial side.

"It wasn't because it was un-P.C. -- it's because it wasn't funny," he says. "This is a different time and place. The new Tanner, he's probably got a 50 Cent poster on his wall."

Linklater maintained the film's in-your-face spirit by choosing leads like Jeff Davies as the team's apathetic star player, Kelly Leak.

"He had this sort of fuming disdain for all authority - he doesn't give a s--- whether you like him," says Linklater. "That's my kind of character."

But none of it would have worked without Thornton, who swills and snarls his way through the movie with a zest even Matthau would applaud.

"He's one of the few guys who can pull that s--- off," says Linklater. "He's a throwback, a true '70s antihero outlaw."

For a kids' movie, Linklater's take is at the edgier end of the spectrum -- but it still stands in stark contrast to his next project, an animated adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel "A Scanner Darkly."

The sci-fi film was first shot live with actors Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder, then animated in the same manner as his 2001 film "Waking Life."

The director, who made a name for himself with the meandering 1991 cult movie "Slackers," says he doesn't make conscious choices to do wildly different projects -- nor does he care about staying true to old-school Linklater purists.

"I think there's about 38 people who will see anything I do," he jokes. "For some people, they'll like a couple movies -- 'Dazed and Confused' is cool for them, and then you can't top that.

"You just always hope that a broad audience will like what you like about a film. That they'll tap into the reason you're doing it."

"Dazed and Confused" fans who venture out to "Bad News Bears" will get one satisfying moment: Linklater included the same Ted Nugent song, "Stranglehold," on the film's soundtrack.

"That's a shout out to Ted, man. I love that song," he says. "I figure I can use it twice in 13 years."