Bad Santa (2003)

17 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Bad Santa” is not your typical Christmas movie and that’s an understatement indeed. This is the vilest Christmas movie since “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” But there are differences between the two. One is, “Bad Santa” is a comedy; “Silent Night, Deadly Night” was not. Another is, “Bad Santa” is supposed to be funny; “Silent Night, Deadly Night” was unintentionally funny. Name a Christmas movie like “A Christmas Story” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Elf.” Those films are made for children and families. “Bad Santa” is not for everyone; in fact, it may hardly be for anyone. This is a cruel, vulgar, vile, profane film set around Christmastime with a crude, vulgar, and profane mall-Santa Claus. This movie is not for children or for the faint of heart—and especially not for those who don’t enjoy the shot of a drunken Santa vomiting on a wall while the title “Bad Santa” fades into place.

The title character is Willie and is played by Billy Bob Thornton. This is the role Thornton was born to play. He’s a smoking, drinking, vulgar sex fiend who is unfriendly to everyone and has respect for himself. He is not afraid of anything, especially not of looking like a complete idiot. Thornton does not call off any bets in making this guy extremely unlikable. This would be a mistake if the movie wasn’t so funny.

Every Christmas Eve night, Willie and his assistant “elf” Marcus (Tony Cox, brilliant) knock off a department store and then prepare for their next heist next Christmas. But in order to be able to get inside the department store, Willie has to dress up like Santa Claus for the children. He would make the Santa in “A Christmas Story” look like a buffoon. He drinks, swears in front of the kids, and even wets himself in the Santa seat. And so Marcus is the one who has to pick up the pieces that Willie leaves behind. About now, he is starting regret helping this guy out again…and again…and again. He is really ticked off at this guy.

Willie’s unusual behavior (for a Santa) catches the attention of the mall manager (John Ritter), a sleazy store detective (Bernie Mac), and an attractive bartender (Lauren Graham) with a Santa fetish and a catchphrase that should never be uttered on TV or in another Christmas movie, for that matter. He also attracts an overweight, friendless little boy named Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly)—the kid is a cross between Joe Cobb (of the Little Rascals) and Ralph Wiggum of “The Simpsons.” This kid is even weirder than Willie and stalks him everywhere to the point of saving him from a mean dwarf and inviting him to his house, where he lives alone with his senile grandmother (Cloris Leachman). Willie’s attitude doesn’t change around this kid, but the kid just doesn’t leave him alone. And he thinks he’s really Santa. This is not the cute kid you see in other Christmas movies—this kid is a creepy little tyke.

This is not a heartwarming film—it’s as crude as you could get. And yet it works because the actors are game and the script is hilarious. We also don’t get the kind of happy ending you would expect in a Christmas film—in fact, nothing you’d expect in a Christmas film is found here. Billy Bob Thornton is excellent as Willie, with a mix of hopelessness and grisliness that is very welcome and hilarious. Tony Cox, John Ritter, Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham, Brett Kelly, and Lauren Tom (as Marcus’ wife) are very funny as well.

“Bad Santa” is R-rated—like I said, it’s definitely not for children. And if you decide to check it out, I have to share this quote from Richard Roeper when he reviewed this movie—“Don’t see it with someone you don’t know very well.”

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