Holiday Movie Month: "Bad Santa" Review

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A Christmas-time crime comedy written and directed by Terry Zwigoff starring Billy Bob Thornton as a miserable conman, who, along with his dwarf partner, poses as Santa and his Little Helper in order to rob department stores on Christmas Eve. The unlikely duo's plan hits a snag, however, when "Santa" winds up befriending a troubled, chubby kid, and the security boss discovers the plot. Also starring Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Thom & John Ritter.

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Holiday Movie Month: "Bad Santa" Review

Rating: R
Length: 91 minutes
Release Date: Nov. 26, 2003
Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
Genre: Comedy/Crime

He smokes, wets his pants, and has a major problem with alcohol. He has a potty mouth, hates children, and cracks a mean safe. He's Santa, but not like the jolly, round-bellied old elf that one might find calling the shots at the North Pole. For those who like their holidays with a bit of dark humor, the cult Christmas flick "Bad Santa," starring Billy Bob Thornton as Willie Stokes, really delivers. Willie is a down-on-his-luck bad guy who joins forces with his thieving buddy Marcus (Tony Cox) for an annual Santa-and-elf scam. The scam involves Willie getting hired to play the role of Santa at an area shopping mall, with Marcus joining him as a helper elf. Together, the pair work to rob mall stores prior to Christmas.

Although it sounds like a good plan for average crooks, the scheme is hampered by the fact that Willie, a perpetual alcoholic who is grouchy, bitter, and unable to handle being around children, raises the suspicions of mall manager Bob (John Ritter), who confides in mall security head Gin (Bernie Mac). The audience gets to see a softer side of Willie when he develops a friendship of sorts with an overweight boy (Brett Kelly) who is targeted by bullies, causing Willie to grow as a person and even catch a bit of holiday spirit in the process.

When Willie runs out of places to live, he ends up moving in with the kid and his grandmother, who seems oblivious to the fact that he's there for much of the film. The boy becomes enamored with Willie and believes that he really is Santa. It is this chubby boy's belief in Christmas that begins to bring about a change in the otherwise profane and grinchy Willie, but it may just be too late.

The Santa suit is not fooling anyone though. The film is crass, vulgar, and downright nasty in parts. In one scene, Willie finds himself having sex with a woman in the plus-size dressing room. He sleeps with another woman who has a Santa fetish. He demolishes a plastic reindeer by stomping it with his feet. The language is foul, and the film features enough inappropriate behavior to make even the Grinch himself cringe.

One thing that "Bad Santa" does well is challenge the parameters of what is considered normal for a holiday movie. This Christmas movie has a definite edge to it and is funny in a dark sort of way that won't appeal to all audiences. For those who found the holiday misadventures in "Home Alone" and "A Christmas Story" funny, "Bad Santa" will be an instant hit. Movie lovers looking for a feel-good movie that will boost holiday spirits may be disappointed when watching this shock flick. Simply put, what "Caddyshack" did for golf, "Bad Santa" does for Christmas.

It is worth noting that the acting in "Bad Santa" is nothing short of superb. Billie Bob Thornton is spot on in his performance, delivering a believable bad-guy persona that instantly turns him into the guy whom viewers love to hate. Although this film has no heroes, Thornton is wondrously hysterical in his role as Willie. He puts in a masterful performance as something of an antihero, the hard-to-love dysfunctional and broken loser who hates everyone and everything, including himself. His character seems to catapult from childhood into adulthood as he literally grows up before the eyes of viewers.

The support cast is equally impressive. Bernie Mac delivers a solid performance in his supporting role as the blundering mall cop. John Ritter is also polished to perfection in what would mark his last performance on the silver screen.

"Bad Santa" is the ultimate off-color Christmas movie. If nothing else, it is a very nice distraction from the cheesy family-themed Christmas movies that play tirelessly on a loop during the Christmas season. Although it starts out as a dark assault on Christmas and the Christmas spirit, it evolves into the story of a man who has lost his way and his faith and then finds it restored in an unexpected way by unlikely acquaintances.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5