The producers of “Bad Santa” must’ve dug up Charles Bukowski and offered him a bottle of scotch in exchange for his version of a Christmas movie. There’s no other explanation for this film. “Bad Santa” can be summed up pretty simply: It’s a typical Christmas movie; it’s got the kids and love and a happy ending (sort of) and even a little tidbit at the end that digs into the anti-materialistic meaning of Christmas. The only difference between this and a regular old Jolly Saint Nick movie, I guess, would be the profanity, excessive drinking, general anger targeted towards innocent parents and children and, last but not least, midget jokes. Other than all that though, this is the perfect Christmas movie for the whole family!
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From frame one, “Bad Santa” is ridiculously funny. Just the image of a miserable Bill Bob Thornton in a Santa suit drinking alone at a bar with overhead narration that you definitely wouldn’t want your grandma to hear is enough to make you die of laughter. “Bad Santa” is my pick as the perfect Christmas movie because its political incorrectness and general on screen misbehavior make it more than relevant and more realistic than other Christmas movies.
“Bad Santa” is about a drunk played by Billy Bob Thornton. This drunk and his partner in crime, a black midget who gives them their niche, pose as Santa and an elf every year at a different mall in a different city. At the end of the Christmas season, they rob the mall for all its worth and pack up until next Christmas. Now, they are back at it again, only Thornton is worse than usual in his drinking and ends up staying at some loser kid’s mansion while the kid’s dad is in prison. The kid (played by Brett Kelley) adds some of the more quirky humor in the film. He seems about two steps away from being mentally handicapped, but Willie (Thornton) takes pity on him and tries to teach him a thing or two (in between yelling at the kid and coming close to physically abusing him. Remember this is not typical Hollywood fare).
Lauren Graham even stops by to play Willie’s object of sexual desire. While Willie takes pity on the kid, Sue (Lauren Graham) seems to take pity on him, albeit less aggressively. The film never falls into cliché territory. These three never become the perfect misfit family to provide us with life lessons and ironic humor. No. Instead Willie just drinks more and more and takes abuse from his midget partner, all while the two are being investigated by the mall’s head of security, Gin (Bernie Mac).
Thornton’s performance is, by far, the best thing about this film. He plays Willie with such ease and such utter lack of restraint and disregard for anything resembling happiness, one wonders if this character really is a small realistic piece of Thornton’s everyday persona. Other actors do fine in the film. The late, great actors Bernie Mac and John Ritter are superb in their parts, while Tony Cox eats up the scenery as a semi foil to Thornton’s misbehaving and shameless Santa Claus. Graham is Graham, but the movie requires little but her looks anyway. And Kelley as the kid is just strange in the best possible way. Who knows if this character is him in real life or whether he’s just that great of an actor? And, quite frankly, who gives a damn?
Terry Zwigoff is the right director for this piece. His deadpan direction plays perfectly into the depressing yet funny nature of the movie and its central character’s misery. Here’s hoping Zwigoff gets back behind the camera for another “Bad Santa” pretty soon. Another interesting note is the script. Obviously, it doesn’t just flip the Christmas movie on its ass (it’s too smart for that), it takes the Christmas movie and Christmas in general and gives it a dose of reality — that is, if reality can be described as a middle aged, miserable, veteran, despicable, people-hating drunk. The Coen brothers receive executive producer credits on the movie and apparently rewrote the script with Zwigoff on the set. One can just picture them in a corner giggling with childlike zeal at the prospect of having Thornton piss himself and not even notice or banging fat chicks in the women’s clothing store. They probably thought they could get away with anything on this film. They kinda did.
Don’t worry. “Bad Santa” doesn’t end without a life lesson. That life lesson is just cloaked and disguised under the veil of the kid kicking a bully in the balls and some brief and heartfelt moments from Willie as he throws in some final curses and gets shot. “Bad Santa” is a Christmas classic. If you want to laugh your ass off this Christmas week and enjoy the political incorrectness that comedies should be allowed to have, then pop in “Bad Santa” (the unrated version of course) and celebrate Christmas with our favorite drunk Santa Claus.