Review: Bad Santa


One thing is clear within minutes of Bad Santa: it didn’t just receive an R rating from the MPAA, it prayed for it. Even when this movie isn’t clever in its perversity, this movie squeezes a few F-bombs into the dialogue just to grease the wheels of a raunchy ride.

It’s a Christmas movie, if you hadn’t come to that conclusion, about a whisky kissing malcontent of minimal bladder control who goes head-to-toe Saint Nick once a year for the purpose of casing shopping malls for robbery. Sure, it’s totally implausible that nobody would blow the whistle on a mall Santa that smokes and cusses in the presence of five-year-olds, but we’ll go along with it just in case he whips out his junk in front of a mom. It never happens in Bad Santa but the probability was more favorable than in any other Christmas movie ever made.

Watching Billy Bob Thornton play Willie is similar to how Private Parts described the appeal of Howard Stern: “You never know what he’s gonna say next.” All you do know for certain is that it’s never been said in a Santa suit, not on a movie screen anyway. I never considered how sacredly Christmas has been treated until Bad Santa took a crack at it. There was sort of a moment of realization when I heard Gilmore Girls star Lauren Graham utter the words “Fuck me Santa” and I was grateful for it, having encountered the misleading poster for this film and thought “More straight laced studio sauce.”

On one side of Billy Bob is an Elf who is a dwarf (that always confuses me) and on the other an overweight, self loathing child who Thornton refers to as “another mongoloid” upon first meeting.

The Elf, Marcus (Tony Cox) is Willie’s partner in crime. He can fit through air vents and his body size favors Willie’s employment over Santas less accessorized. Cox’s verbal parlay with Thornton is a blast to behold, as each line is nastier than the last. There are weak moments but Tony Cox is capable of more than midget comedy roles. There just aren’t enough opportunities for black actors…

Eventually Willie will have to move in with “The Kid” as he’s billed in the credits, borderline retarded and worryingly obese. In this character, Willie will find Christmas or something. It’s never really clear on that. “The Kid” works well enough for a child actor. The safe route would have been Spencer Breslin of Disney’s The Kid, but his performance in that film indicates why lacking personality is better than having an annoying one. As far as these three characters are concerned, this is laugh out loud, especially for those of you who rarely find comedy films to be funny.

Of the additional supporting characters, there are many, and juggling them proves to be an insurmountable task for director Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World, Crumb). Lauren Graham is a pleasant addition because she’d be right at home in a lighter holiday comedy, but the character is only serving a severely limited purpose. The real bumbling is in the movie’s handling of John Ritter and Bernie Mac. Mostly I say this because I could never figure out who they were playing.

Ritter seems like a store detective, observing this bad Santa’s behavior and reporting it to a store manager played by Mac, but then Mac is referred to as a store detective who treats Ritter, apparently the manager, as some sort of underling. There’s some sort of extortion subplot working between the two as well that I only picked up on during my third viewing, and it still might just be my head trying to explain the pauses between them. They, along with Marcus the Elf’s Asian wife, in a crudely racist portrayal are the most notable of many subplot characters scattered all over.

Also, the strangeness of Bernie Mac’s country-western costume is possibly a wink towards the Coen brothers having created the original Bad Santa story (you’ll find cowboy hats among most of their films) but it really just comes across as making him appear even more out of place than he already is.

While on the subject of visual presentation, Bad Santa’s is sadly out of tune with the voice of its script. The story doesn’t play it safe until the last act, but this otherwise defiantly R rated Christmas film looks like it’s under shopping mall lights wherever it takes us, and considering all of the fucking Santa does, not one shred of nudity serves as it could have (see: The Wrestler). I’m sure that makes it quite a bit easier to play on television though, even if two thirds of the dialogue has to be replaced.

Even before the Elf-like final third of unprovoked twists and swift story-wrap ups, Bad Santa has already lost traction, but also similar to Elf that doesn’t stop it from being one of the funniest Holiday movies around.

Overall Score: 6.95 – Okay.  (6s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 6s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.)