Movie Review
Bad Santa
2003
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Bernie Mac
A-


bad Santa is a vile, vile movie. It has no respect for basic human decency, consistently appeals to the lowest common denominator, and casts aside all notions of good taste in search of the most shocking, evil jokes it can lay its grubby hands on. This is a film with the darkest of hearts, clearly made by people who from time to time enjoy indulging their most degenerate impulses. Needless to say, I loved every minute of it.

This movie will be treasured by all of us who are sick of the “heartwarming” good cheer flicks that Hollywood evidently feels compelled to offer up roughly every Thanksgiving (and don’t even get me started on the Very Special TV Movies starring vacuous twerps like Tony Danza and irrepressible small children whose sugary cuteness is probably computer-generated). The most uplifting part of Bad Santa involves (literally) a good, swift kick to the nuts and the flashing of a well-deserved middle finger. Santa Claus himself spends a good percentage of his leisure time getting bombed out of his gourd on cheap bourbon and administering anal sex to female conquests in the women’s plus-size section of the local mall’s clothing store. Deck the halls, indeed.

Our plot is a simple one. Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and his dwarf sidekick Marcus (Tony Cox) are a couple of con men whose big play is to masquerade as a department store Santa Claus and his loyal elf when Christmas rolls around every year. On Christmas Eve, Marcus uses his small frame to skitter around the mall’s ventilation system turning off alarms while Willie cracks the store safe, at which point the two of them head for warmer climes to spend their stolen money until the arrival of the next holiday season. Willie, however, is an unreliable drunk whose increasingly erratic behavior causes Marcus to worry that one day, the jig will ultimately be up. Marcus has good reason to fret, because this time mall security (represented by a hilariously repressed John Ritter, in his last film role, and an almost as great Bernie Mac) is suspicious of the two of them. As an additional complication, a lonely, bizarrely dysfunctional boy who seems to believe that his new mall Santa really is Kris Kringle attaches himself to Willie in a manner that can only be described as obsessive.

Director Terry Zwigoff clearly has an affinity for outsiders, as seen by this movie and his previous film Ghost World. Bad Santa, however, is like Ghost World on steroids. The subtle cynicism of that film is here pumped up to a mind-blowing extravaganza of vulgarity and lowbrow brilliance. At any given venue, I estimate that there is at least a 75% chance that unsuspecting moviegoers will walk out of Bad Santa in an enraged huff and demand refunds. And God help any small children whose parents bring them to this movie– nationwide therapy bills will skyrocket for the next twenty years. But the script is razor-sharp and the performances are uniformly great. Thornton in particular carries the film, boozing himself silly and unleashing profanity-laced tirades at the little kids who want to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. His is a truly great comic performance, made even better by the unexpected but effective revelation of true pathos underneath the surface of Willie’s loser lifestyle.

But pathos be damned. The occasional nods to character development only serve to flesh out the savagely witty heart of the movie. At its core, this is a film of great one-liners and hilarious sight gags, a welcome adult tonic to the grossly overripe holiday cheer currently being foisted upon us. Profane, cynical, and unremittingly dark, Bad Santa is the one truly must-see Christmas movie of the year. And no, despite this positive review, Stylus is not responsible for any psychological problems the more thin-skinned among you might develop if you decide to check this film out. Consider yourself warned.


By: Jay Millikan
Published on: 2003-12-12
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