out of Five
Running time: 91
Offbeat, hilarious and gleefully misanthropic, this is the perfect antidote to Hollywood’s annual glut of sugary Christmas movies.
Bad Santa is directed by Terry Zwigoff, who seems to have something of an affinity for non-mainstream, misanthropic characters, what with Crumb and the characters played by Steve Buscemi and Thora Birch in Ghost World.
It’s also executive produced by the Coen Brothers and, for anyone feeling a little let down by Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, Bad Santa is going to feel like the film they should have made, as it has their stamp all over it.
Alcoholic Foul-Mouthed Santa
Billy Bob Thornton plays Willie T. Stokes, an alcoholic, foul-mouthed safecracker who takes a job as a department store Santa Claus every year, just so he can rob the store on Christmas Eve and drink himself stupid for the rest of the year.
His partner in crime is Marcus (Tony Cox), a three foot tall black man, who dons his Elf costume and has the unenviable job of keeping Willie in line until it’s time for the crime – not easy when all “Santa” wants to do is drink, take drugs, swear at the kids and have arse-sex with ladies in the ‘Plus Sizes’ changing rooms.
This year, however, things are a little different. For one thing, Willie finds a girlfriend (the impossibly hot Lauren Graham) and not only that, but a girlfriend with a Santa fetish – the sex scene with her yelling “Fuck me, Santa!” is one of several comic highlights. (Did we mention that this wasn’t a kids’ movie?) In addition, Willie is “adopted” by a fat, lonely, picked-on kid (Brett Kelly), who’s in need of some parental support, a situation that Willie is only too keen to exploit.
However, Willie and Marcus have another, more pressing problem, because the store’s security manager (Bernie Mac) figures out what they’re up to and demands a piece of the action…
Viz Character Come To Life
Billy Bob Thornton is superb – his deadpan, world-weary delivery makes a comic gem out of every line. Willie is a fantastically misanthropic individual – he’s like a Viz character come to life. The film also features some of the most creative, imaginative swearing you’re ever likely to hear. (Online sources estimate that the word “fuck” is used 147 times, but frankly, it feels like more).
As the kid, Brett Kelly gets his fair share of the laughs, particularly in the utterly bonkers – but oddly touching - scene with the wooden pickle. The rest of the supporting cast are equally good, particularly Tony Cox and Lauren Graham, but also Bernie Mac and, in his final screen role, the late John Ritter.
Bad Santa is stuffed full of great lines and hilarious scenes, as well as several dementedly off-the-wall moments. It looks great too, thanks to colourful photography by Jamie Anderson.
Incidentally, there is a longer version available on Region 1 DVD (nicknamed “Badder Santa”) although it’s difficult to imagine just how much worse Santa could be in those extra few minutes.
In short, Bad Santa is a thoroughly enjoyable jet black comedy that’s a must-see for anyone whose normal response to Christmas movies (or indeed, Christmas) is “Bah, humbug”. Highly recommended and one of the best films of the year.