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"Bad Santa" Movie Review

Being 'Bad' Is So Much Fun

By

Bad Santa movie

Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox in "Bad Santa."

Miramax Films
Do not go into “Bad Santa” thinking you’re about to see the normal ‘Christmas is magical, everyone goes to bed with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, and behind every Scrooge there’s a jolly old elf just waiting to emerge’ movie. First of all, Christmas is only magical for the first 15 minutes of shopping when the reality of overpriced presents and pushy crowds hasn’t yet sunk in. Secondly, I don’t know a single person who ever dreamed of sugarplums. And third, miraculous transformations are more in keeping with fairy tales than real life. Sometimes a Scrooge just is a Scrooge. “Bad Santa” takes those cynical thoughts to the extreme, gleefully lashing out at the holiday season and all those sticky sweet Hollywood movies with ho ho happy endings.

When Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) wanders onto the screen in his department store Santa costume, you think he’s a little rundown and on the skinny side, but he’s still got to be a good guy because he’s dressed as Santa. He must love kids and have a heart of gold. How wrong you would be. That first impression is blown out of the water the second Willie opens his mouth. Smoking, swearing, drinking, fornicating, fighting and peeing at will, the Naughty list was created with this guy in mind. Kids are like alien creatures to Willie, he’s never met a bottle he didn’t like, and his Santa suit is just a cover he uses to case department stores before robbing them.

Paired with Marcus (Tony Cox), a dwarf who dresses as an elf and is really the brains behind the operation, Willie spends 10 months out of the year drinking away his heist money and then two months out of the year playing Santa and preparing to pull off another job. This tag-team of Santa and elf work their scam year after year in different cities throughout the U.S. Being of small stature, Marcus hides inside the store at closing time, turning off the alarm system before it can activate, and letting Willie in to do his safecracking thing. Santa and elf escape with the loot and no one is the wiser.

Their tried and true formula for instant riches is finally put to the test when they try to steal from a department store with a store manager (John Ritter) who catches Willie in a compromising position while on the job and wearing his Santa outfit. After the manager calls in his head of security (Bernie Mac) to keep an eye on the pair, Willie and Marcus find themselves in over their heads when the security chief discovers their past and wants half of their take in exchange for keeping his mouth shut.

That’s the premise and it’s interesting and even pretty original and all that, but the real story of "Bad Santa" is just how ‘bad’ Santa gets. Every other word out of Billy Bob Thornton’s mouth is a four letter one, but believe it or not, it works. It starts out being hysterical and never really loses its shock value throughout the film. When he swears at the loser kid who takes him in and desperately wants to believe in Santa, it’s funny rather than offensive. He calls him every conceivable socially unacceptable label but because he treats everyone that way, it’s all in character, and for him to treat the boy any other way would have been a big letdown. This movie doesn’t pull any punches, setting out to be as offensive as possible, and succeeding because it stays true for the entire length of the film.

Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox are terrific as the terrible twosome, but it’s really newcomer Brett Kelly who steals the film. How he managed to keep a straight face with Thornton cussing and screaming at him is beyond me (I hope the DVD has outtakes – there had to have been a ton). Kelly with his round cherub face is the absolute perfect foil for Thornton. Equally as impressive, though in a somewhat smaller role, is Lauren Graham. Graham plays a bartender who has the hots for men in Santa costumes. Attracted first to the suit and eventually to the man wearing the outfit, Graham is both sexy and funny, and complements Thornton’s role as a cynical sinner.

Want to see an innocent, joyful holiday film? Go see "Elf." Ready for a twisted dark comedy that goes where no recent holiday movie has gone? Then check out "Bad Santa." Dumb, sappy Hollywood endings be damned, “Bad Santa” goes for the low blows and relishes each punch that lands.

GRADE: B+

"Bad Santa" was directed by Terry Zwigoff and is rated R for pervasive language, strong sexual content and some violence.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
"Bad Santa" Photo Gallery
"Bad Santa" Cast and Crew List
"Bad Santa" Trailer and Websites

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