Bad Santa

USA, Terry Zwigoff (2003)

Yeah, Bad Santa is as dark as they say it is. It’s mean spirited in a heart-warming way—a Grinchy heart that’s two sizes too small.

Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox play a department store Santa and his elf, who work the holiday gig while they case the joint for their annual Christmas Eve heist. The set-up has worked for years, but with each passing yuletide, Billy Bob’s Willy gets surlier, drunker and more unreliable. John Ritter, in his last role, plays the latest target store’s general manager, who’s disturbed by Willy’s crude behavior, and Bernie Mac, in charge of store security, begins to suspect that something’s not right at the North Pole. And then there’s “The Kid” (I won’t give away his name, for most of the movie he’s just referred to as Kid.) If this were a typical Hollywood film, this chubby, curly-haired sad sack kid would reform the hard-drinking, sexaholic Santa into a warm, caring father-figure. But this is not that film.

Billy Bob Thornton, an actor I like, is absolutely perfect in the role of the most despicable Santa in retail history. As we used to say in high school, he’s “rude, crude and socially unacceptable.” And he may set a record for the most utterances of the f-word in any film, certainly in any holiday film. If you didn’t like Billy Bob before Bad Santa, this will only cement your negative opinion of him. But that’s a testament to his great job in this role.

Bad Santa is well acted overall. Thornton and the Kid are great together. Cloris Leachman has the strangest role of the year; this Academy Award-winning actress plays the little boy’s grandmother, and though she appears on-and-off in the film, her only lines throughout are “Oh, you’re home. I’ll make you some sandwiches.” The direction is competent, though frankly I expected something with a little more visual style and originality from director Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World, Crumb.) The script didn’t keep the laughs coming like I thought it would, which is probably hard to do when every fifth word is an expletive.

Here’s the Gist
: I’m not sorry that I saw Bad Santa, but I can’t say that I really liked it either. [**1/2]

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